Category Archives: General

Lack of EMS Documentation is Associated With Increased Mortality

EMS policy and the trauma center verification process requires that all trauma patients delivered to a trauma center must have a copy of the EMS run sheet. Two parameters that are commonly used to monitor performance improvement (PI) in EMS are:

  • accurate record of scene physiology (SBP, HR, RR, GCS)
  • request by on-scene BLS for ALS assistance

The study looked at the impact of those criteria on patient survival. A total of 4744 patients from the National Trauma Data Bank were analyzed.

Physiologic data: About 28% had at least one missing physiologic data point, with respiratory rate being most commonly missed. They found that the mortality in the group with missing data was over twice as high (10.3%) as it was in the group with complete date (4.5%).

BLS call for ALS assistance: This assist was called for in 17% of cases. These cases were less likely to involve penetrating injuries and more likely to involve car or motorcycle crashes. Injury Severity Score was the same. Eventual patient mortality was the same for BLS calling ALS and ALS response alone.

So why does failure to record physiologic data translate into higher mortality? The initial response may be that the patient was sicker, and so they needed more intense care during transport with less time to record vitals. However, the researchers controlled for this and found it was not a factor. Other issues that may be a factor are EMS training and proficiency, leadership at the scene and enroute, and available staff and resources, among other things.

The researchers speculate that documentation might be a good global measure of appropriate or inappropriate prehospital care that rolls all of these possible factors into one easily identifiable audit filter. They recommend that this be used to focus performance improvement efforts and hopefully improve survival.

I recommend that the results of this study be taken to heart and used to help persuade EMS programs to get religious about recording complete vital signs and leaving the run sheet at the trauma center every time a patient is delivered. Documentation should be evaluated regularly, and all cases with any missing vital signs should be reviewed closely. Trauma Center PI programs should work with EMS to analyze this data and look for the patterns that increase mortality.

Reference: Lack of Emergency Medical Services documentation is associated with poor patient outcomes: a validation of audit filters for prehospital trauma care. Journal of the American College of Surgeons, 210(2):220-227, 2010.

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Cardiac Contusion (for Nurses)

Cardiac contusion is an uncommon condition that is too-commonly worried about. It requires extreme blunt force with a significant head-on component. The most common mechanisms are car crashes (steering wheel) and sports injuries.

A true cardiac contusion is very rare. If a patient did not strike their chest hard enough to cause significant and lasting anterior chest pain, they probably do not have one. If the force was enough to cause a sternal fracture, there is some possibility they may have sustained a cardiac contusion. During ED evaluation, if a patient with a significant mechanism does not exhibit any arrhythmias, they do not have a contusion.

Diagnosis is relatively simple: any trauma patient with a likely mechanism who has chest wall pain and a new arrhythmia or cardiac pump failure has a cardiac contusion. Atrial or ventricular arrhythmias are significant, but a ventricular one is significant because it can degenerate into v-tach or worse.Enzyme measurements do not indicate severity of injury or outcome and should not be obtained.

From a nursing standpoint, you should monitor for and report the following:

  • new arrhythmia, especially a ventricular one. Medications or cardioversion may be ordered to treat.
  • Hypotension, pulmonary congestion, or other signs or heart failure. An echocardiogram or vasoactive medications may be ordered.

Remember, true cardiac contusion is rare! If suspected, telemetry is indicated, along with frequent vital signs. Cardiac enzymes should not be ordered, and any indication of cardiac problems (arrhythmia or failure) should be reported and treated promptly.

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The VIP (Very Important Person) Syndrome in Healthcare

The VIP syndrome occurs in healthcare when a celebrity or other well-connected “important” person receives a level of care that the average person does not. This situation was first documented in a paper published in the 1960s which noted that VIP patients have worse outcomes.

VIPs have the expectation that they can get special access to care and that the care will be of higher quality than that provided to others. Healthcare providers often grant this extra access, in the form of returned phone calls and preferential access to their clinic or office. The provider tries to provide a higher quality of care by ordering additional tests and involving more consultants. This idea ignores the fact that we already provide the best care we know how, and money or fame can’t buy any better.

Unfortunately, trying to provide better care sets up the VIP for a higher complication rate and a greater chance of death. Healthcare consists of a number of intertwined systems that, in general, have found their most efficient processes and lowest complication rates. Any disturbance in this equilibrium of tests, consultants, or nursing care moves this equilibrium away from its safety point.

Every test has its own set of possible complications. Each consultant feels compelled to add something to the evaluation, which usually means even more tests, and more possible complications. And once too many consultants are involved, there is no “captain of the ship” and care can become fragmented and even more inefficient and dangerous.

How do we avoid the VIP Syndrome? First, explain these facts to the VIP, making sure to impress upon them that requesting or receiving care that is “different” may be dangerous to their health. Explain the same things to all providers who will be involved in their care. Finally, do not stray from the way you “normally” do things. Order the same tests you usually would, use the same consultants, and take control of all of their recommendations, trying to do things in your usual way. This will provide the VIP with the best care possible, which is actually the same as what everybody else gets.

Reference: “The VIP Syndrome”: A Clinical Study in Hospital Psychiatry. Weintraub, Journal of Mental and Nervious Disease, 138(2): 181-193, 1964.

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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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