Category Archives: General

Motorcycle Helmets and Reduction of Head Injury and Mortality

There are more than 4000 motorcyclist deaths each year. Per mile traveled, there are 27 times more motorcycle deaths that automobile fatalities. This is primarily due to the lack of protection available to motorcyclists, including failure to use a helmet. About 50% of motorcycle deaths are due to head injury.

Helmet use by motorcyclists varies widely across the US. Only 20 states and the District of Columbia have mandatory helmet laws for all motorcyclists. 27 states require helmets on some riders, usually those less than 17 or 18 years old. Three states (Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire) do not have any helmet law.

Do helmets work? Do helmet laws work? Many studies have been done, and now the evidence is convincing that the answer to both questions is yes! The Eastern Association for the Surgery of Trauma has just released an evidence based review on motorcycle helmet use. They looked at 45 of the best scientific studies available to reach their conclusions. Following is a summary of their findings:

  • The use of motorcycle helmets decreases the overall death rate of motorcycle crashes as compared to non-helmeted riders
  • The use of motorcycle helmets decreases lethal head injuries as compared to non-helmeted riders
  • The use of motorcycle helmets decreases the severity of non-lethal head injuries as compared to non-helmeted riders
  • Mandatory universal helmet laws reduce mortality and head injury in geographical areas with the law as compared to those without it

Based on this data, the EAST document makes the following recommendations:

  • Level I (supported by highest quality research): All motorcyclists should wear helmets to reduce the incidence of head injury after a crash
  • Level II (supported by high quality research): All motorcyclists should wear helmets to improve overall survival and reduce head-injury related mortality after a crash
  • Level II: Mandatory universal motorcycle helmet laws should be introduced or re-enacted to reduce morality and head injury after a crash

The full text of the EAST review can be downloaded by clicking the link below.

Reference: EAST Evidence Based Review on Helmet Efficacy to Reduce Head Injury and Mortality in Motorcycle Crashes

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Trauma 20 Years Ago: Seatbelt Injury

We take for granted that the so-called seatbelt sign is a harbinger of bad things in the abdomen. One of the first papers on this topic appeared in the February 1990 issue of the Journal of Trauma, entitled “Intra-abdominal Seatbelt Injury.”

The paper presents 8 cases who presented to the ED with a seatbelt sign after a motor vehicle crash. They found that serious injuries to the bowel and mesentery might be present without early symptoms or physical signs, and that CT scan and peritoneal lavage were not fully reliable in finding the injuries. Their conclusion was that the always wise “high index of suspicion” should be used in these patients.

Current day thinking has not changed much. During the last two decades, sentiment has swung from always operating based on these finding to being more selective. We recommend using good judgment. Seatbelt sign should always arouse a healthy suspicion for injury. A CT scan is now mandatory. If anything unusual is found (free fluid, bowel wall or mesenteric thickening or stranding) then a trip to the OR is indicated. Small bowel injuries may not become symptomatic for 12-72 hours, increasing the eventual complication rate if treatment is delayed.

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How Long Do Trauma Patients Need To Be On A Backboard?

EMS is very good about immobilizing the spine in trauma patients prior to transporting them to the Emergency Department. Healthcare personnel in the ED are not as good about getting people off of those rigid boards.

As always, it boils down to a risk and benefit assessment. What is the risk of keeping someone on a board, especially if they may have a spine injury? There is a well-known downside to spine immobilization: skin breakdown, which can occur in as little as 2 hours. Less appreciated is the fact that it is very uncomfortable lying on one’s back on any type of board, be it a spine board or even a simple plastic slider board.

What is the risk to the spine if it is indeed injured? In a cooperative patient, essentially zero. Think about it this way: what are spine-injured patients placed on once they are admitted to the hospital? A regular bed with a standard hospital mattress! They are kept on logroll precautions until they have an operative procedure or receive a brace.

The bottom line: All patients should be moved off the EMS spine board onto the ED cart unless they are being transferred to another hospital within an hour or less. The ED cart should have a regular mattress, but the patient must be cooperative. If they cannot or will not cooperate, and the probability of spine injury is high, they may need to be chemically restrained. A plastic slider board may be placed under the patient when they are ready to go to diagnostic studies, and should be removed immediately when they are complete. No board of any kind should ever be left under a patient for more than 2 hours.

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How to Predict the Need for Massive Transfusion in the ED

Massive transfusion is needed in about 3-5% of trauma patients. All Level I and II trauma centers are required to have a massive transfusion protocol.However, the protocol must be triggered in a timely manner to best benefit the major trauma patient.

Trauma surgeons at Vanderbilt validated a simple scoring system that allows accurate prediction of the need for massive transfusion in patients as they arrived in the ED. The system was called the ABC score (Assessment of Blood Consumption). It consists of the following 4 yes/no parameters:

  • Penetrating mechanism (0=no, 1=yes)
  • ED SBP <= 90 (0=no, 1=yes)
  • ED heart rate >= 120 (0=no, 1=yes)
  • Positive FAST (0=no, 1=yes)

The results of ABC when applied to trauma patients in the ED was as follows:

ABC Score         % requiring massive transfusion
0                                1%
1                               10%
2                               41%
3                               48%
4                             100%

This scoring system is simple, easy to use and easy to remember. No laboratory tests are needed, and the information needed can be gathered quickly.

Bottom Line: This is a simple and accurate prediction system for determining the need for massive transfusion in trauma patients. Recommended!

Reference: Cotton et al. J Trauma 66(2) 346-352, 2009.

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Trauma Flow Sheets vs the Electronic Medical Record

There is a big push nationwide to move toward the use of electronic medical record (EMR)systems in hospitals. There are a number of benefits from using such systems, including but not limited to:

  • Comprehensive and permanent data collection
  • Easily accessed system-wide
  • Reduction in human errors
  • Increased throughput once the initial learning curve has been completed
  • Multifaceted reporting capabilities

Many hospital or hospital system IT departments are insistent in moving all charting to the EMR, including the trauma flow sheet. For some, it is a revenue enhancement tool. For others, it is a result of the urge to make everything paperless.

As a trauma center reviewer, I have had the privilege of visiting many hospitals and inspecting their trauma flow sheet charting tools. The bottom line is that I have never seen an electronic medical record system that can replace a handwritten trauma flow sheet.

A trauma team activation is a complex, fast-paced, finely orchestrated performance that does not lend itself well to being recorded electronically. There are two major problems:

  • Accurate and timely data entry
  • Intelligible reports

There is so much information being transferred nearly simultaneously (vital signs, physical findings, procedures, fluid volumes given, laboratory and radiology orders, narratives) that it is not possible to record it completely and accurately using any current computer data entry interface or medical record system. Frequently, it ends up being recorded by hand on another piece of paper and is then entered later into the EMR.

The reporting features of virtually all EMRs allow for a nice event listing sorted by time. It is rarely graphical in nature, and typically spans multiple pages of text output. Charts that I have reviewed have “reports” ranging from 8 to 20 pages. It is virtually impossible for a human being to read through this type of output and reconstruct the flow of a trauma resuscitation. In many PI review cases, the trauma program manager is reduced to transcribing the individual data items from the EMR back onto a paper trauma flow sheet in order to conceptualize the resuscitation.

IT personnel may claim that the problem is an “end user failure.” I defy any of them to come to a trauma resuscitation and rapidly and accurately transcribe all of the information presented, or try to review a PI case based on a printed EMR report.

The real bottom line: trauma flow sheets (and other similar code sheets) can not and should not be reduced to electronic data entry. It is not only frustrating, but will hamper the trauma PI process to the point of jeopardizing a trauma center’s verification status!

Related post: More on the EMR/trauma flow sheet debate

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