Category Archives: General

Obit: Norman McSwain Jr, MD

Once again, the trauma world is a little smaller. Yesterday, another great trauma professional passed away, Dr. Norman McSwain. I have known the man for decades, and literally grew up reading about his advancements and accomplishments. It’s interesting that one never truly appreciates the magnitude of those achievements until the person is gone.

Norm was a skilled surgeon and teacher, but his achievements were felt far outside his home in Louisiana. He was an early member of the ACS Committee on Trauma, and was very involved in the development of the Advanced Trauma Life Support and Prehospital Trauma Life Support courses. He is credited with developing the original EMS programs in both Kansas, where he took his first faculty position out or residency, and in New Orleans, his home for the remainder of his life. He spent his career at the Charity Hospital there, weathering multiple political storms over the years, as well as the big one, Hurricane Katrina. He was instrumental in achieving Level I Trauma Center status for its replacement, Interim LSU Hospital.

Norm’s accomplishments are, as many of his contemporaries who have left us, too numerous to count. I certainly won’t try to recount them here. But it was his charm, his love for his charges, and his willingness to teach every trauma professional that will always be remembered.

I’ll leave you with his 18 rules of patient care. They are timeless, and will serve you well regardless of your degree and level of medical training.

Download McSwains Rules of Patient Care

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10 Things That Will Get You Sued – Part 3

#7. Inappropriate prescribing

Most trauma professionals worry about over-prescribing pain medication. But under-prescribing can create problems as well. Uncontrolled pain is a huge patient dissatisfier, and can lead to unwelcome complications as well (think pneumonia after rib fractures). Always do the math and make sure you are sending the right drug in the right amount home with your patient. If the patient’s needs are outside the usual range, work with their primary provider or a pain clinic to help optimize their care.

#8. Improper care during an emergency

This situation can occur in the emergency department when the emergency physician calls a specialist to assist with management. If the specialist insists on the emergency physician providing care because they do not want to come to the hospital, the specialist opens themselves up to major problems if any actual or perceived problem occurs afterwards. The emergency physician should be sure to convey their concerns very clearly, tell the specialist that the conversation will be documented carefully, and then do so. Specialists, make sure you understand the emergency physician’s concerns and clearly explain why you think you don’t need to see the patient in person. And if there is any doubt, always go see the patient.

#9. Failure to get informed consent

In emergency situations, this is generally not an issue. Attempts should be made to communicate with the patient or their surrogate to explain what needs to happen. However, life or limb saving procedures must not be delayed if informed consent cannot be obtained. Be sure to fill out a consent as soon as practical, and document any attempts that were made to obtain it. In urgent or elective situations, always discuss the procedure completely, and provide realistic information on expected outcomes and possible complications. Make sure all is documented well on the consent or in the EHR. And realize that if you utilize your surrogates to get the consent (midlevel providers, residents), you are increasing the likelihood that some of the information has not been conveyed as you would like.

#10. Letting noncompliant patients take charge

Some patients are noncompliant by nature, some are noncompliant because they are not competent (intoxicated, head injured). You must use your judgment to discern the difference between the two. Always try to act in the best interest of your patient. Document your decisions thoroughly, and don’t hesitate to involve your legal / psych / social work teams.

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10 Things That Will Get You Sued – Part 2

#3. You are responsible for the conduct of your staff

If the people who work for you treat patients poorly, you may be responsible. It is important that your staff have bedside manner at least as good as yours.

#4. Avoiding your patients

Some of your patients may need to contact you, either while in the hospital or while at home. Don’t appear to be inaccessible. This is an extension of your bedside manner. Return phone calls or messages promptly, or have one of your staff do so. Make time to meet with patient families while in the hospital. Remember, you deal with trauma all the time; this is probably the first time they have and it is extremely stressful.

#5. Ordering a test without checking the result

I presume that if you order a test, you are interested in the result. And hopefully it will make some difference in patient care. If not, don’t order it. But if you do order a test, always check the result. If a critical result is found, don’t assume that “someone” will tell you about it. You are responsible for checking it and dealing with any subsequent orders or followup that is needed.

#6. “What we have here is a failure to communicate” – part 2

Most of the time, our patients have primary care providers somewhere. Make it a point to identify them and keep them in the loop. Provide, at a minimum, a copy of the discharge summary from the hospital or emergency department. If new therapies of any kind are started, make sure they are aware. And if an “incidentaloma” is found (a new medical condition found on lab tests or imaging studies), followup with the primary care provider to make sure that they are aware of it so they can take over responsibility for further diagnosis or treatment.

Tune in for the final installment in my next post.

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10 Things That Will Get You Sued – Part 1

Many trauma professionals believe that they can only be sued if they make a medical error and some harm occurs. Unfortunately, this is not entirely true. Yes, this is one obvious way to spark a suit or claim. 

Unfortunately, it goes beyond that. Your patient may sue you if they even believe that they were harmed in some way, or think that something untoward happened while you were providing care. Here are the top 10 reasons for getting sued and my thoughts on each (in no particular order). 

#1. “What we have here is a failure to communicate”

Your interpersonal skills are at least as important as your clinical skills! You may be a clinical prodigy, but if you are an asshole at the bedside, your patients will never appreciate your skills. You must be able to listen and empathize with your patient. Sit down, look at them eye to eye. Listen attentively. Don’t appear to be in a rush to get out of the room. You’d be surprised at how much more valuable information you will get and the relationship you create.

#2. “Work not documented is work not done”

This is my quote and it’s one of my favorites. Accurate, complete, timely, and legible documentation is a must! The legibility problem is fading with the widespread use of electronic health records (EHR, although this is creating new problems). Documentation, or lack thereof, will not get you sued. However, if you are involved in a suit or claim and your care is scrutinized, poor or missing documentation will make it impossible to plausibly contend that you did what you say you did. 

It’s critical that you document every encounter thoroughly enough to be able to reconstruct what you were thinking and what you did. And providing a date and time is absolutely critical. This is especially important when the EHR timestamps everything you enter. Frequently, you will be documenting something somewhat after the fact. Always make sure that it’s not too far after the fact. Document as promptly as you can, and include the time that you were actually providing the service. 

And never go back and try to “correct” your documentation, especially if the chart is being requested for inclusion in a suit or claim. If you believe there is an error, create an addendum and explain why the correction is necessary. If a suit or claim has been started, do not touch or open the chart without advice from your legal counsel.

Tune in for Part 2 in my next post!

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Are We Transporting Our Patients In The Correct Position? Part 2

[Note to prehospital providers: please comment below or email with your experience using this position.]

In my last post, I discussed the only paper I could find on the lateral trauma position (LTP). It was a survey that was taken 5 years after implementation of this transport position in Norway. Is there anything else out there that may help give us guidance on proper positioning during transport?

Just this month, a paper was published that tries to look at this issue from a different viewpoint. Since we can’t really show that the LTP is good or prove that it is truly safe, can we at least demonstrate that supine positioning might be bad?

 A very diverse group of researchers in Norway performed a systematic literature review and meta-analysis of everything they could find published on supine positioning and airway patency in unconscious trauma patients, especially when compared to lateral positioning. This was carried out from the beginning of time, or 1959 in this case.

See if you can follow their progress:

  • There weren’t really any good studies using this global search, so they broadened it to include trauma patients with decreased level of consciousness.
  • Oops! There weren’t any studies using this broader definition, either.
  • The authors wanted to use morbidity and mortality as their outcomes. But, there weren’t any good studies for this either so the decided to use indirect outcomes such as hypoxia, hypercapnea, hypoventilation, work of breathing, and a bunch of other stuff.
  • Oops again! There weren’t any studies reporting these indirect outcomes. 
  • But when these two indirect searches were combined, a number of papers (20) were identified that were used for a meta-analysis
  • A number of these papers showed soft results (language like ”indication of”, “small difference”). The only significant results were found in patients with known obstructive sleep apnea.

Bottom line: The use of the lateral trauma position is an intriguing concept, and has been used successfully in Norway for about 10 years. Intuitively, it makes sense, especially in obese patients or those with known obstructive sleep apnea. Unfortunately, this paper approached the questions asked kind of backwards, in my opinion.

I believe that LTP has a place in prehospital care, but that there will be significant barriers to adoption in most countries. In order to overcome these hurdles, clear protocols and positioning instructions will need to be developed, as well as specific indications. And it wouldn’t hurt to do a few good studies along the way. The Norwegians have helped us with the ethics questions, as it is the standard of care in that country. So write your local IRB and get busy!

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Reference: Is the supine position associated with loss of airway patency in unconscious trauma patients? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Scand J Trauma Resusc Emerg Med 23:50, July 1, 2015. 

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