Category Archives: Guidelines

EAST Practice Management Guideline: Handoffs And Transitions Of Care

Medicine, in general, and trauma care, specifically, require frequent communication. These communications may be between two providers to maintain continuity of care or between providers and patients to explain it. Unfortunately, the Joint Commission has identified breakdowns in the process as a root cause of preventable events and a significant factor in preventable death.

To address this problem, many centers have sought to standardize this process, which may include some of the principles in my previous post. However, until now, there have been no evidence-based recommendations for this practice.

The Eastern Association for the Surgery of Trauma performed a systematic review and meta-analysis of the literature to develop a practice guideline. They focused specifically on handoffs for acute care surgery during perioperative interactions, patients arriving in the trauma bay, and patients transitioning to or from the ICU and floor. The goal was to reduce complications, handoff errors, medical errors, and preventable events.

The literature on this topic was searched from 1960 to 2021, and only observational and randomized studies were included. This yielded only ten papers that met all search criteria. The reviewers then used these papers to answer three questions. These and their answers are outlined below.

Question 1.  Should perioperative interactions in the care of ACS patients (P) include a standardized handoff versus current process without a standardized handoff to help reduce clinical complications, handoff errors, medical errors, and preventable adverse events?

Patients who received a standardized handoff were significantly less likely to experience a handoff error.  However, the impact on medical errors and adverse events could not be gauged because only one paper covered these problems.

Question 2. Should EMS utilize a standardized handoff at the arrival of trauma patients versus the current process without a standardized handoff to help reduce clinical complications, handoff errors, medical errors, and preventable adverse events?

We instituted a trauma team EMS timeout process in 2012, which persists to this day. Please take a look at my post here. The prehospital providers like it because they feel like they are more a part of the team. The receiving team can listen to their report without distraction. But what does the literature say? Unfortunately, we don’t know yet. Only one published paper covered this topic, and it included only 18 patients.  Thus, no conclusions can be drawn.

Question 3. Should intra/inter floor and ICU interactions in the care of ACS patients include a standardized handoff versus currently process without a standardized handoff to help reduce clinical complications, handoff errors, medical errors, and preventable adverse events?

Significantly fewer preventable adverse events occurred when a standardized handoff was used. There was no difference in clinical complications. The impact on medical errors could not be evaluated because only one study assessed this.

Bottom line: The general belief is that using a standardized handoff is a good thing. But I think you see the theme here. As in most EAST systematic reviews, there is painfully little high-quality data available for us to prove it. Most of the mundane, day-to-day things we do and decisions we make as trauma professionals are too dull to perform a study about. 

From the few papers available for this guideline, standardized handoffs are a good thing. They decrease handoff errors and reduce preventable adverse events as well. The EMS to trauma team handoff is well-received and is subjectively valuable. Unfortunately, there is little real data to prove this.

Overall, the real data on this topic is weak, and much more work needs to be done. I would encourage all trauma professionals to develop and refine their handoff processes. I strongly recommend coupling that with your own study so you can teach the rest of us how good it really can be.

Reference: Handoffs and Transitions of Care: A Systematic Review, Meta-Analysis, and Practice Management Guideline from the Eastern Association for the Surgery of Trauma. J Trauma, Publish Ahead of Print
DOI: 10.1097/TA.0000000000004285

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Guidelines for Consultants to the Trauma Service

My last two posts were dedicated to the use of consultants for your trauma patients. Here are my thoughts on best practices in using their services.

Trauma surgeons often rely on consultants to assist in the care of their patients. Orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons are some of the more frequent consultants, but various other surgical and medical specialists may be needed. I have found that providing guidelines to consultants helps ensure quality care and good communication between caregivers and patients/families.

We have disseminated guidelines to our colleagues, and I wanted to touch on some of the main points. You can download the full document using the link at the bottom of this post.

To deliver the highest quality and most cost-effective care, we request that the services we consult do the following:

  • Please introduce yourself to our patient and their family, and explain why you are seeing them.
  • Although you may discuss your findings with the patient, please discuss all recommendations with a member of the trauma service first. This avoids patient confusion if the trauma team chooses not to implement any recommendations due to other patient factors you may not be aware of.
  • Document your consultation results in writing (paper or EMR) promptly.
  • If additional tests, imaging, or medications are recommended, discuss with the trauma service first. If appropriate, we will write the orders or clear you to do so and discuss the plan with the patient.
  • We round at specific daily times and welcome your attendance and input.
  • Please communicate any post-discharge instructions to us or enter into the medical record so we can expedite the discharge process and ensure all follow-up visits are scheduled.

Bottom line: A uniform “code of behavior” is essential! Ensuring good patient communication is paramount. They need to hear the same plans from all of their caregivers, or else they will lose faith in us. One of the most important lessons I have learned over the years is that you do not need to implement every recommendation that a consultant makes. They may not be aware of the most current trauma literature and will not be familiar with how their recommendations may impact other injuries.

Click here to download a sample Trauma Services consultant guidelines document.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Best Of EAST 2023 #5: Imaging The Elderly

Several papers have been published over the years regarding underdiagnosis when applying the usual imaging guidelines to elderly trauma patients. Unfortunately, our elders are more fragile than the younger patients those guidelines were based on, leading to injury from lesser mechanisms. They also do not experience pain the same way and may sustain serious injuries that produce no discomfort on physical exam. Yet many trauma professionals continue to apply standard imaging guidelines that may not apply to older patients.

EAST sponsored a multicenter trial on the use of CT scans to minimize missed injuries. Eighteen Level I and Level II trauma centers prospectively enrolled elderly (age 65+) trauma patients in the study over one year. Besides the usual demographic information, data on physical exams, imaging studies, and injuries identified were also collected. The study sought to determine the incidence of delayed injury diagnosis, defined as any identified injury that was not initially imaged with a CT scan.

Here are the factoids:

  • Over 5,000 patients were enrolled, with a median age of 79
  • Falls were common, with 65% of patients presenting after one
  • Nearly 80% of patients actually sustained an injury (!)
  • Head and cervical spine were imaged in about 90% of patients, making them the most common initial studies
  • The most commonly missed injuries involved BCVI (blunt carotid and vertebral injury) or thoracic/lumbar spine fractures
  • 38% of BCVI injuries and 60% of T/L spine fractures were not identified during initial imaging
  • Patients who were transferred in, did not speak English, or suffered from dementia were significantly more likely to experience delayed diagnosis

The authors concluded that about one in ten elderly blunt trauma patients sustained injuries in body regions not imaged initially. They recommended the use of imaging guidelines to minimize this risk.

Bottom line: Finally! It has taken this long to perform a study that promotes standardizing how we perform initial patient imaging after blunt trauma. Granted, this study only applies to older patients, but the concept can also be used for younger ones. The elderly version must mandate certain studies, such as head and the entire spine. Physical exams can  still be incorporated in the guidelines for younger patients but not the elderly.

The overall incidence of BCVI was low, only 0.7%. But its presence was missed in 38% of patients, setting them up for a potential  stroke. Some way to incorporate CT angiography of the neck will need to be developed. The risk / benefit ratio of the contrast load vs. stroke risk will also have to be determined.

Here are my questions and comments for the presenter/authors:

  • Did you capture all of the geriatric patients presenting to the study hospitals? By my calculation, 5468 patients divided by 18 trauma centers divided by 14 months of study equals 22 patients enrolled per center per month. Hmm, my center sees more than that number of elderly injured patients in the ED per day! Why are there so few patients in your study? Were there some selection criteria not mentioned in the abstract?
  • Why should we believe these study numbers if you only included a subset of the total patients that were imaged?

My own reading of the literature leads me to believe that your conclusions are correct. I believe that all centers should develop or revise their elderly imaging guidelines to include certain mandatory scans regardless of how benign the physical exam appears. Our elders don’t manifest symptoms as reliably as the young. But the audience needs a little more information to help them understand some of the study numbers.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Serial Abdominal Examination: The Practice Guideline

Last week, I published a preliminary practice guideline for nonoperative management of abdominal stab wounds. Click here to view it. A key part of that guideline is the serial abdominal exam. Surgeons talk about this a lot, but how do you do it? I posted about many of the details here.

The serial exam is nuanced enough so that it deserves its own clinical practice guideline! You won’t find this in any doctor or nursing books. It’s really simple, but the devil is truly in the details.

Click this image or the link below to download the guideline. I’ve also posted a Microsoft publisher version in case you want to modify it to suit your center.

Please feel free to email or post comments and questions in the area below this post!


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Nonoperative Management Of Abdominal Stab Wounds: The Practice Guideline!

In my previous post, I reviewed a new paper that examined the appropriate amount of time that patients should be observed for nonoperative manage of an abdominal stab wound. Many of you know that I am a fanatic of properly crafted clinical practice guidelines (CPG). I decided to make a first pass at converting the LAC+USC group’s paper to something that will be helpful at the bedside.

This CPG incorporates the patient selection and timing information published in the paper. It breaks the process down into easily followed tasks, and fills in the blanks for shift to shift management. The CPG is displayed in an “if this, then do that” format. This firms up decision making and makes it easier for your trauma program to monitor compliance with it.

A note about CPGs: they generally cover about 90% of clinical cases. Obviously, they cannot provide guidance for certain rare combinations of circumstance. In that case, the trauma professional should do what they think is right for that situation. Most importantly, they should document this rationale in a progress note.

Here are answers to some of your questions in advance:

  • Patients should not be kept at bed rest. This is always bad.
  • There is no reason to keep the patient NPO. A very small percentage of patients actually fail. It makes no sense to starve everybody for the one or two patients that need to go to the OR each year. Anesthesiologists at trauma centers are very skilled at providing safe intubation in all patients. As you all know, every trauma activation patient coming into your trauma bay needing intubation has just finished a seven course meal!
  • Give your patient clear discharge instructions! They need to know what they can do, and what to look for if things eventually go awry.

And please leave comments and suggestions for improvements in the reply box below or by email to [email protected]. There are always ways to make CPGs even better! I have also included a Microsoft Publisher file so you can modify this guideline to better suit your trauma center.

In my next post, I’ll publish the serial abdominal observation CPG I mention in this one.


  1. Download a pdf file of the guideline
  2. Download a Publisher file of the guideline


Print Friendly, PDF & Email