Category Archives: How to

How To: The Serial Abdominal Exam

How often have you seen this in an admitting history and physical exam note? “Admit for observation; serial abdominal exams.” We say it so often it almost doesn’t mean anything. And during your training, did anyone really teach you how to do it? For most trauma professionals, I believe the answer is no.

Yet the serial abdominal exam is a key part of the management of many clinical issues, for both trauma patients as well as those with acute care surgical problems.

Here are the key points:

  • Establish a baseline. As an examiner, you need to be able to determine if your patient is getting worse. So you need to do an initial exam as a basis for comparisons.
  • Pay attention to analgesics. Make sure you know what was given last, and when. You do not need to withhold pain medications. They will reduce pain, but not eliminate it. You just need enough information to determine if the exam is getting worse with the same amount of medication on board.
  • Perform regular exams. It’s one thing to write down that serial exams will be done, but someone actually has to do them. How often? Consider how quickly your patient’s status could change, given the clinical possibilities you have in mind. In general, every 4 hours should be sufficient. Every shift is not. And be thorough!
  • Document, document, document. A new progress note should be written, dated and timed, every time you see your patient. Leave a detailed description of how the patient looks, vital signs, pertinent labs, and of course, exact details of the physical exam.
  • Practice good handoffs. Yes, we understand that you won’t be able to see the patient shift after shift. So when it’s time to handoff, bring the person relieving you and do the exam with them. You can describe the pertinent history, the exam to date, the analgesic history, and allow them to establish a baseline that matches yours. And of course, make sure they can contact you if there are any questions.
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How To Craft A Clinical Practice Guideline

All US trauma centers verified by the American College of Surgeons are required to have clinical practice guidelines (CPG). Trauma centers around the world generally have them, but may not be required to by their designating authority. But don’t confuse a policy about clinical management, say for head injury, with a real CPG. Policies are generally broad statements about how you (are supposed to) do things, whereas a CPG is a specific set of rules you use when managing a specific patient problem.

  1. Look around; don’t reinvent the wheel! This is the first mistake nearly every center makes. It seems like most want to spend hours and hours combing through the literature, trying to synthesize it and come up with a CPG from scratch. Guess what? Hundreds of other centers have already done this! And many have posted theirs online for all to see and learn from. Take advantage of their generosity. Look at several. Find the one that comes closest to meeting your needs. Then “borrow” it.
  2. Review the newest literature. Any existing CPG should have been created using the most up to date literature at the time. But that could have been several years ago. Look for anything new (and significant) that may require a few tweaks to the existing CPG.
  3. Create your draft, customizing it to your hospital. Doing things exactly the same as another center doesn’t always make sense, and it may not be possible. Tweak the protocols to match your resources and local standards of care. But don’t stray too far off of what the literature tells you is right.
  4. Make sure it is actionable. It should not be a literature summary, or a bunch of wishy-washy statements saying you could do this or consider doing that. Your CPG should spell out exactly what to do and when. (see examples below)
  5. Create a concise flow diagram. The fewer boxes the better. This needs to be easy to follow and simple to understand. It must fit on one page!
  6. Get buy-in from all services involved. Don’t try to implement your CPG by fiat. Use your draft as a launching pad. Let everyone who will be involved with it have their say, and be prepared to make some minor modifications to get buy-in from as many people as possible.
  7. Educate everybody! Start a campaign to explain the rationale and details of your CPG to everyone: physicians, nurses, techs, etc. Give educational presentations. You don’t want the eventual implementation to surprise anyone. Your colleagues don’t like surprises and will be less likely to follow along.
  8. Roll it out. Create processes and a timeline to roll it out. Give everyone several months to get used to it.
  9. Now monitor it! It makes no sense to implement something that no one follows. Create a monitoring system using your PI program. Include it in your reports or dashboards so providers can see how they are doing. And if you really want participation, let providers see how they are doing compared to their colleagues. Everyone wants to be the top dog.

Some sample CPGs:

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Video: How To Reduce An Ankle Dislocation

Here’s another fun video. It’s directed to emergency physicians and orthopedic surgeons who have to manage ankle dislocations. It will show you the following:

  • Types of ankle dislocation
  • Reduction
  • Splinting
  • The Quigley maneuver
  • How to apply the Sugartong splint
  • Lots of practical tips!

The video was broadcast at a previous Trauma Education: The Next Generation conference, and features Sarah Anderson MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Regions Hospital.

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How To: Manage Extraperitoneal Bladder Rupture

Extraperitoneal bladder rupture is a relatively uncommon injury, but is easily managed in most cases. It is associated with a blunt mechanism, and concomitant fracture of the pubic rami or spreading of the symphysis pubis is nearly always present. In the old days, we used to think that the bladder injury was due to penetration anteriorly by bony fragments, but this is probably an old wives tale. It’s more likely due to hydraulic forces occurring within the bladder at the same time the pelvic ring is being deformed or spread apart by blunt forces.

If you obtain a pelvic x-ray during the initial trauma evaluation and see any fractures or diastasis around the symphysis, think bladder injury. Placement of a urinary catheter will typically drain plenty of urine, which will usually be grossly bloody.

Once the injury is suspected, the diagnostic test of choice is a CT cystogram. Don’t confuse this with the images seen when the bladder passively fills with contrast when the catheter is clamped. There is not enough pressure in the bladder to guarantee that contrast will leak out, so this type of study may be falsely negative.

True CT cystogram technique requires filling the bladder with at least 350cc of dilute contrast under pressure by hanging it on an IV pole, then clamping the catheter. Once the bladder is filled, the scan can proceed as usual. But after it is complete, a second limited scan through the pelvis must be performed after the contrast has been evacuated by unclamping the catheter. This allows visualization of small contrast leaks that might otherwise be masked by all the contrast in the bladder.

Here’s a nice sagittal image of an extraperitoneal injury from radiologypics.com:

Note how the contrast dissects around the bladder but does not enter the peritoneal cavity.

Extraperitoneal injuries usually do not require repair and will heal on their own. However, if the symphysis pubis needs instrumentation to restore anatomic position, concomitant repair of the bladder is frequently necessary to keep the hardware from being contaminated by urine.

Bottom line:

  • Suspect an extraperitoneal bladder injury in anyone with bony injuries involving the symphysis pubis.
  • Don’t order a urinalysis in trauma patients!
  • Use CT cystogram technique to make the diagnosis.
  • Treatment is simple: leave the urinary catheter in place for 10 days. No urology consult is needed.
  • Then repeat the CT cystogram to confirm healing, and remove the catheter.

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