Category Archives: General

The Two-Sheet Trauma Trick

Hypothermia is always a concern in trauma patients. Even the simple act of completely exposing your patient in the trauma room facilitates it. How do trauma professionals balance the need to see everything with the equally important need to keep the patient warm?

The natural reaction is to cover them up. Sheets and warm blankets are the usual tools. But I always marvel that, as soon as the blanket goes on, there’s always a need to examine something or do some procedure. Look at a wound. Insert a urinary catheter. And every time this happens, the blanket comes off.

Here’s a clever way to deal with this problem. Don’t use just one sheet or blanket. Use two! Fold each one in half, so they are each half-length. Place one on the top half of the patient, the other at the bottom, overlapping slightly at the waist. If you need to look at an extremity, fold the blanket that covers it over from right to left (or left to right) to uncover just the area of interest. To insert a urinary catheter, just open the area at the waist, moving the top sheet up a little, the bottom down a little.

Bottom line: Keep your patient toasty! Use the two-sheet (or warm blanket) trick to avoid hypothermia. Remember, patient temperature begins to drop as soon as the clothes come off! And I don’t recommend the use of one-piece inflatable warming blankets (e.g. Bair Hugger) until the work in the ED is complete, because the whole thing has to be removed every time you need meaningful access to the patient.

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New Technology: 3-D Printed Casts For Fractures

I’ve written quite a lot about the promise of medical applications for 3-D printers. Here’s another one for use by trauma professionals.

Look at the good, old-fashioned plaster cast. It’s been around for decades, and serves its purpose well. It’s easy to apply, inexpensive, and reasonably durable.

Then, along came fiberglass. It’s lighter, more durable, and a bit more water-resistant. And not a whole lot more expensive.

But both of these items have drawbacks. They are heavy. It’s best not to get them wet. Their application is very operator dependent. And probably most importantly, they are opaque. This masks any wounds or skin conditions under it for an extended period of time.

Deniz Karasahin, a Turkish student, won a design award for the development of a 3-D printed cast. It used the appearance of cancellous bone as a model, and is aesthetically very cool. A body scanner is used to scan the affected extremity so that the cast can be customized to the patient. The actual cast is printed from plastic, and can be rendered in a variety of colors. It is hinged, and locks together with a simple pin mechanism.

Bottom line: This is an interesting development in 3-D printing. However, it is not for everybody. Cheap plaster and fiberglass casts are very suitable for many patients. But for some, having the ability to inspect the underlying skin or deal with wounds will make this item much more desirable. And keep in mind, this product was developed for aesthetics. The holes can be much larger and still maintain strength and rigidity. So the cast of the future could be mostly holes, making it very light and shower compatible. Many people might be willing to pay a little more for this convenience.

Note: Ignore the LIPUS ultrasound units that can be incorporated into the one in the article. This is still unproven technology and I don’t recommend it.

Reference / photo credit: A’Design Award Competition

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Pagers vs Smartphones. Duh!

I wrote about good, old-fashioned pagers yesterday. They are very old, yet reliable technology. But these days, smartphones are all the rage. People walk around everywhere, staring at them. Are they useful in a hospital setting?

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These days, 90% or so of healthcare providers carry a smartphone. They can transmit and receive much more information than a pager ever could. Would trauma team members at a Level I US trauma center find them valuable? The University of Arizona, Tucson sent a questionnaire to surgeons, residents, and midlevel providers rotating through their trauma service asking them a series of 31 questions about use of these devices.

Here are the factoids:

  • 50 people completed the survey, most of whom (40) were residents. It appears that everyone was forced to return it.
  • 94% were in favor of using it for communications
  • 78% found it easy to use and user friendly
  • 98% believed that it improved speed and quality of communication
  • 98% believed it improved the accessibility of team members
  • 90% felt that it improved physician response time
  • 4% believed that it could not be used due to HIPAA regulations

Bottom line: This is a good example of an unscientific study dressed up to look a little scientific. And it essentially confirms the bias of the researchers. Nonetheless, it is an indicator of where we’re heading with in-hospital and out-of-hospital communications. The days of good, old-fashioned pagers and walkie-talkies are rapidly waning. Smartphones, and whatever follows (Google Glass?), are rapidly replacing them. The only obstacles now are ensuring good signal strength deep inside hospital buildings, and being ever mindful of HIPAA requirements.

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Reference: Improving communication in Level I trauma centers: replacing pagers with smartphones. Telemedicine and e-Health, 19(3):150-153, 2013.

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Paging And The Trauma Pro

People who work in hospitals, particularly physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners and residents are throwbacks who still use old-fashioned paging technology. My colleague, the Skeptical Scalpel, recently lamented this fact in one of his blog posts. But they do seem to be a necessary evil, since cellular coverage is often limited deep inside of buildings.

But how much to trauma professionals get paged? An oral presentation at the recent Congress of Neurological Surgeons described a study that monitored paging practices between nurses and neurosurgical residents.

Medical students were paid to follow neurosurgical residents during 8 12-hour call shifts. They recorded the paging number and location, priority, and what the resident was doing when paged.

Here are the factoids, which were enlightening but not surprising:

  • 55 pages were received per shift, on average, ranging from 33 to 75
  • An average of 5 pages per hour were received, with a range of 2 to 7
  • A substantial number of pages were received during sleep times (4 per hour)
  • It took an average of 1.4 minutes to return the page
  • 68% of pages were non-urgent
  • 65% interrupted a patient care activity
  • An average of 1.1 hours was spent returning pages per shift

Bottom line: Yes, we are throwbacks using an old technology. But it does serve us well. Unfortunately, it’s an old technology being used in an inefficient manner. I recommend that nursing units make it a practice to maintain a “page list” of nonurgent items. The trauma professional can then stop by or call each unit periodically (every 2 hours or some other appropriate time interval) and deal with all of them at once. Obviously, urgent and emergent problems should still be called immediately. This will ensure that routine issues are taken care of in a timely manner and the trauma pro can attend to their other duties as efficiently as possible.

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Reference: Oral Paper 113: An Observational Study of Hospital Paging Practices and Workflow Interruption Among On-call Junior Neurosurgery Residents. Presented at the Congress of Neurological Surgeons 2012.

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WTF? Submental Intubation? (Best Of)

By request, I’m republishing this interesting post.

Here’s one of the weirder procedures I’ve seen in some time. Imagine that you need a definitive airway, but you can’t use the face for some reason (mouth or nose). The usual choice would be a tracheostomy, right? But what if you only need it for a few days? Typically, once placed, trachs must be kept for several weeks before decannulation is safe.

Enter submental intubation. This technique involves passing an endotracheal tube through the anterior floor of the mouth, and then down the airway. This leaves the facial bones, mandible, and skull base untouched.

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The technique is straightforward. After initially intubating the patient  orotracheally, a 1.5cm incision is created just off the midline in the submental area. Using a hemostat, all layers are penetrated, entering the oropharynx just lateral to the tongue. A 1.5cm incision is then made parallel to the gum line of the lower teeth. The connector at the proximal end of the endotracheal tube is removed, and a hemostat is placed through the chin incision again. The proximal end of the ET tube is grasped from within the pharynx and pulled out through the skin, leaving the distal (balloon) end in the trachea. The connector is reinserted, and the tube is then hooked up to the anesthesia circuit again. The tube is secured using a stitch under the chin. After a final position check, the surgical procedure can commence.

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There are a number of variations on this technique, so you may encounter slightly different descriptions. The tube can be pulled at the end of the procedure, or left for a few days to ensure safe extubation, if needed.

A small series of 10 patients undergoing this technique was reviewed, and there were no short or long term problems. Scarring under the chin was acceptable, and was probably less noticeable than a trach scar.

Bottom line: This is a unique and creative method for intubating patients with very short-term airway needs while their facial fractures are being fixed. Brilliant idea!

Reference: Submental intubation in patients with panfacial fractures: a prospective study. Indian J Anaesth 55(3):299-304, 2011.

Photo source: internet

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