Category Archives: Performance Improvement

When Does The PI Clock Start Ticking? The Answer, Part 2!

I analyzed the first of two PI clock scenarios in my last post. They are not always as obvious as they seem. Now let’s look at the second case:

A young male is involved in a motor vehicle crash and strikes his head. He enters your trauma center at exactly midnight as a trauma activation. Head CT shows a 7mm epidural hematoma with no shift and no effacement. GCS is 15, and the neurologic exam is completely normal. He is admitted to the SICU for neuro monitoring and is scheduled to have a repeat CT scan at 06:00. The scan shows significant expansion of the hematoma, with midline shift and ventricular effacement. He is taken to the OR for craniotomy by neurosurgery at 6:55.

This one is very similar to the first, except there is no indication to go to the OR at initial presentation. But about 7 hours later, he is in the operating room. So the PI trigger occurs, right? That’s more than 4 hours!

Not so fast! Let’s analyze this a bit more. Everything seems to be going well until the 6 AM CT scan. If the patient’s condition is unchanged, the earliest possible time the change in his head could have been recognized was shortly after 6:00. So the patient was actually in the OR less than an hour after the problem was recognized, right?

Not quite so fast again. The trauma PI program still has to examine the entire process from arrival until operation. Here are the questions that need to be answered:

  • Was neurosurgery involved in the initial evaluation in a timely manner?
  • Was the patient admitted to an appropriate inpatient unit?
  • Did appropriate monitoring occur?
  • Did any change in exam occur that could have suggested the hematoma was changing?
  • If so, did nursing and physician staff act appropriately with that information?

Bottom line: If everything went according to plan, and there was no change in exam or vital signs through the repeat CT scan, then this is an exemplary catch, and instead of sending the usual trauma PI nasty-gram to neurosurgery, they should receive a congratulatory note for providing such excellent service!

All too often, the trauma program just routinely sends out these “nasty-grams” without doing any further analysis of the data. And in cases like this one, the work involved in responding is just a waste of time. 

General rule: If the actual time noted for one of these time-sensitive filters is very, very long (e.g. delay to laparotomy of 62 hours), then look at it very closely. Did someone actually sit on a bleeding spleen for nearly three days, of was the patient doing well and suddenly failed nonoperative management? I think you know the answer.

And don’t forget to send out a few love letters to the other services for work well done from time to time! They probably cringe when they see trauma PI notes, since they always seem to imply something bad has happened.

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When Does The PI Clock Start Ticking? The Answer, Part 1!

In my last post, I presented two potential performance improvement (PI) cases. I asked for your input as to when the clock should actually start for the 4-hour craniotomy/craniectomy rule. Today, I’ll give you my answer to the first case.

Lets look at it again:

A young male is involved in a motor vehicle crash and strikes his head. He enters your trauma center at exactly midnight as a trauma activation. Head CT shows a 12mm epidural hematoma with 8mm midline shift and ventricular effacement. GCS was 14 on arrival, but has declined to 12 by the time you leave the CT scanner. He is taken to the OR for craniotomy by neurosurgery at 4:15.

This one looks straightforward, right? But not so fast. The crani occurred more than 4 hours after arrival. Isn’t that a violation of the 4 hour filter? But did you know he needed an operation when he arrived in the ED? No! GCS and exam were reasonable, so the clock starts once the CT scan finishes, even if the surgeon doesn’t see them at that time. Why then? because the 4 hour rule is testing all of the following:

  • Whether a physician was present in CT and recognized what was on the images (not required, but reviewed if there was one there)
  • How long it takes for the radiologist to get the images
  • How long it takes for the report to be done
  • How quickly the surgeon or emergency physician review the report
  • How long it takes to contact the neurosurgeon
  • How long it takes them to see the patient and decide they need an operation
  • How easy it is to get this emergency case to the OR suite
  • How long it takes for anesthesia to do their assessment and get the patient into the room
  • How long it takes the OR team to be ready to cut

Lots of stuff! So if the scan finished any later than 12:15 am, this filter gets triggered. But hold on! In my opinion, 4 hours is a long time to wait for an emergent problem like this large epidural. Even if the scan finished at 12:30, the 4 hour rule is met, but why did it take so long to get the operation started? I’ve seen cases like this where the incision was started less than an hour after the patient arrived in the trauma bay!  Some of these cases need review even if they appear to meet the time limits.

Bottom line: Case #1 – the clock officially starts when the proof of clinical injury has been provided. This could be an abnormal physical exam, a CT scan, a critical lab test draw, a phone call from a concerned nurse, etc. The clock doesn’t necessarily start when the patient rolls in the door, unless you have some kind of weird superpowers!

I’ll review and analyze the second case tomorrow.

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When Does The PI Clock Start Ticking?

This is a question that comes up frequently in trauma performance improvement (PI) programs. Several of the PI audit filters typically used at trauma centers include a time parameter. Some of these include:

  • Craniotomy > 4 hrs
  • Laparotomy > 4 hrs
  • OR for open fracture > 8 hrs (although this is now outdated)
  • OR for compartment syndrome > 2 hrs

The question that needs to be asked is: 2 or 4 or 8 hours after what?

Let’s consider the following scenario:

A young male is involved in a motor vehicle crash and strikes his head. He enters your trauma center at exactly midnight as a trauma activation. Head CT shows a 12mm epidural hematoma with 8mm midline shift and ventricular effacement. GCS was 14 on arrival, but has declined to 12 by the time you leave the CT scanner. He is taken to the OR for craniotomy by neurosurgery at 4:15.

And this one:

A young male is involved in a motor vehicle crash and strikes his head. He enters your trauma center at exactly midnight as a trauma activation. Head CT shows a 7mm epidural hematoma with no shift and no effacement. GCS is 15, and the neurologic exam is completely normal. He is admitted to the SICU for neuro monitoring and is scheduled to have a repeat CT scan at 06:00. The scan shows significant expansion of the hematoma, with midline shift and ventricular effacement. He is taken to the OR for craniotomy by neurosurgery at 6:55.

My questions for you:

  • When does the PI clock start ticking in each case?
  • What information do you need to review to make this decision?
  • Do you send a PI “love note” to the neurosurgeons in either case?

Share your thoughts on Twitter or by commenting below. I give you my answers in the next post.

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When Is It Not An “Unplanned ICU Admission?”

All US trauma centers verified by the American College of Surgeons (ACS) must now subscribe to the ACS Trauma Quality Improvement Program (TQIP). This program allows each center to benchmark themselves against other trauma centers that are just like them (level, volume, acuity, etc).  Every quarter, TQIP members receive a report that details their performance in a number of key categories. The report slices and dices a large number of data points, and shows how they compare to those other trauma centers.

One of the more interesting portions of the TQIP report deals with risk-adjusted complications. The one I wrote about yesterday, the “ICU bounce back,” is officially called an “unplanned ICU admission.”

I’ve had several trauma centers ask me what constitutes an unplanned ICU admission. Is it any bounce back? What about patients who were never in the ICU?

This questions is particularly important to me because my own center’s TQIP report shows that we have a significant number of unplanned ICU admissions. But I know for a fact that they are not surprises. We have an inpatient trauma unit, with capabilities somewhere between the usual ward bed and an ICU bed. Patients can get telemetry, continuous oximetry, vital signs every 2 hours, and more. It functions as a kind of step-down unit, so we frequently admit patients who may require ICU admission at other hospitals.

Every once in a while, a patient who is receiving care in the trauma unit shows signs that they are going to need a true ICU level of care. In that case, we promptly move them to the ICU before they decompensate any further.

Is that situation an “unplanned ICU admission?” In my opinion, no. The patient received the highest level of care while outside the ICU, and ultimately a considered decision was made to move them. In my mind, this is a “planned ICU admission.”

Bottom line: There are two issues at play if your “unplanned ICU admissions” get flagged on your TQIP report. The first is determining if it was truly unplanned. If the Rapid Response Team (RRT) was called, then it was almost certainly unplanned. But if the patient was being monitored properly, showed signs that they would need an ICU level of care, and was preemptively transferred there, it was not. Similarly, if one of your surgical specialists wants the patient transferred (e.g. MAP goals), then that is also a planned admission.

The second factor is figuring out why the admissions are getting reported to TQIP as unplanned. This is usually a trauma registrar issue. They may be looking for any ward to ICU transfer, and classifying it as unplanned. Educate all your registrars on the nuances of what is planned and what isn’t.

If you are on the receiving end of a TQIP variance on unplanned ICU admissions, use the drill-down tool to identify the exact patient records involved. Review the involved medical records, paying close attention to vital signs, monitoring, and all decision making leading up to the time of the ICU transfer. If it isn’t truly unplanned, educate your registrars. But if it is, make sure that it was properly dealt with by your trauma performance improvement program.

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Does The Tertiary Survey Really Work?

Delayed diagnoses / missed injuries are with us to stay. The typical trauma activation is a fast-paced process, with lots of things going on at once. Trauma professionals are very good about doing a thorough exam and selecting pertinent diagnostic tests to seek out the obvious and not so obvious injuries.

But we will always miss a few. The incidence varies from 1% to about 40%, depending on who your read. Most of the time, they are subtle and have little clinical impact. But some are not so subtle, and some of the rare ones can be life-threatening.

The trauma tertiary survey has been around for at least 30 years, and is executed a little differently everywhere you go. But the concept is the same. Do another exam and check all the diagnostic tests after 24 to 48 hours to make sure you are not missing the obvious.

Does it actually work? There have been a few studies over the years that have tried to find the answer. A paper was published that used meta-analysis to figure this out. The authors defined two types of missed injury:

  • Type I – an injury that was missed during the initial evaluation but was detected by the tertiary survey.
  • Type II – an injury missed by both the initial exam and the tertiary survey

Here are the factoids:

  • Only 10 observational studies were identified, and only 3 were suitable for meta-analysis
  • The average Type I missed injury rate was 4.3%. The number tended to be lower in large studies and higher in small studies.
  • Only 1 study looked at the Type II missed injury rate – 1.5%
  • Three studies looked at the change in missed injury rates before and after implementation of a tertiary survey process. Type I increased from 3% to 7%, and Type II decreased from 2.4% to 1.5%, both highly significant.
  • 10% to 30% of missed injuries were significant enough to require operative management

Bottom line: In the complex dance of a trauma activation, injuries will be missed. The good news is that the tertiary survey does work at picking up many, but not all, of the “occult” injuries. And with proper attention to your patient, nearly all will be found by the time of discharge. Develop your process, adopt a form, and crush missed injuries!

Related posts:

Reference: The effect of tertiary surveys on missed injuries in trauma: a systematic review. Scand J Trauma Resusc Emerg Med 20:77, 2012.

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