Category Archives: Philosophy

The Post-Crunch Debriefing

Trauma centers generally design their trauma teams around the type and volume of injured patients they receive. There must be sufficient depth of coverage to handle multiple “hits” at once. But even the best planning can be overwhelmed by the occasional confluence of the planets where multiple, multiple patients arrive during a relatively short period of time (the “crunch”).

As the reserve of available trauma professionals to see new, incoming patients dwindles, it sometimes even becomes necessary to close the center to new patients. Once those who have already arrived have been processed, the trauma center can open again.

This scenario, while hopefully rare, unfortunately introduces a huge opportunity for errors and omissions in care. There is much more clinical activity, lots of patient information to be gathered and processed, and many decisions to be made. How can you reduce the opportunity for these potential problems?

Consider a “post-crunch” debriefing! Once things have quieted down, assemble all team members in one room. Systematically review each patient involved in the “crunch”, going through physical exam, imaging, lab results, and the final plan. It’s helpful to have access to the electronic medical record during this process so everything that is known can be reviewed. Make sure that all clinical questions are answered, and that solid plans are in place and specific people are assigned to implement them.

Once you’ve reviewed all of the incoming, don’t forget your patients already in the hospital. Significant issues may have occurred while you were busy, so quickly review their status as well. Chat with their nurses for updates. Make sure they are doing okay.

Then prepare yourself for the next “crunch”!

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Why People Don’t Change Their Minds Despite The Data

Has this happened to you?

Your (emergency physician / neurosurgeon / orthopaedic surgeon) colleague wants to (get rib detail xrays / administer steroids / wait a few days before doing a femur ORIF). You question it based on your interpretation of the literature. You even provide a stack of papers to them to prove your point. Do they buy it? Even in the presence of randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled studies with thousands of patients (good luck finding those)?

The answer is generally NO! Why not? It’s science. It’s objective data. WTF?

Sociologists and psychologists have shown that there is a concept that they call the Backfire Effect. Essentially, once you come to believe something, you do your best to protect it from harm. You become more skeptical of facts that refute your beliefs, and less skeptical of the items that support them. Having one’s beliefs challenged, even with objective and authoritative data, causes us to hold them even more deeply. There are plenty of examples of this in everyday life. The absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The number of shooters in the JFK assassination. President Obama’s citizenship.

Bottom line: It’s human nature to try to pick apart a scientific article that challenges your biases, looking for every possible fault. It’s the Backfire Effect. Be aware of this built in flaw (protective mechanism?) in our psyche. And always ask yourself, “what if?” Look at the issue through the eyes of someone not familiar with the concepts. If someone challenges your beliefs, welcome it! Be skeptical of both them AND yourself. You might just learn something new!

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Pet Peeve: Improper Video Laryngoscopy

The invention of video-assisted laryngoscopy and intubation has been a huge boon to trauma professionals. So it irks me to no end when I see them misusing the technology.

I call this phenomenon non-video laryngoscopy and intubation. Take a look at this picture:

What’s wrong, you say? Who’s watching the #@*! video screen??!

This intubator is basically using a clunky, old-fashioned laryngoscope tethered by two huge cables. Which makes it worse than a clunky, old-fashioned laryngoscope.

Bottom line: Your hospital has provided an expensive piece of equipment to help you intubate better and more reliably. You no longer have to peer down a narrow channel in the oropharynx, while blocking your own view with the ET tube.

Watch the damn screen!

(Photo source: epmonthly.com)

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Don’t Ignore The Naughty Bits

A major part of any patient encounter is the physical exam. This is particularly true in the trauma patient, because it allows trauma professionals to identify potential life and limb threatening injuries quickly and deal with them. Unfortunately, we tend to mentally block out certain parts of the body, typically the genitalia and perineum, and may not do a complete exam of the area. I call these areas the naughty bits. For those of you who don’t get the reference, here’s the origin of this phrase:

Specifically, the naughty bits are the penis, vagina, perineum, anus and natal cleft (aka the butt crack or arse crack). These areas are more likely to remain covered when the patient arrives, and are less likely to be examined thoroughly.

In penetrating trauma, a detailed exam of these areas is extremely important in every patient to avoid hidden injuries and to determine if nearby internal structures (rectum, urethra) might have been injured.

Here are some tips for each of the areas:

  • Penis – Always look for any blood at the meatus (or a little blood in the underwear) as a possible sign of urethral injury. This is frequently associated with pelvic fractures.
  • Scrotum – Blood staining here is usually from blood dissecting away from pelvic fractures. Patients with this finding are more likely to need angiographic embolization of pelvic bleeding.
  • Vagina – external exam should always be done. Internal and/or speculum exam should be done in pregnant patients, and those with external bleeding or pelvic fractures
  • Perineum – Also associated with pelvic fracture and significant bleeding. Skin tears in this area are usually lacerations indicating an open pelvic fracture. Alert your orthopaedic surgeons early, and do a good, clean rectal exam (carefully wipe away all external blood). Rectal injuries are common with this finding, and a formal proctoscopic will probably be required.
  • Anus – Skin tears virtually guarantee that a deeper rectal injury will be found. Proctoscopic exam in the OR is mandatory.
  • Natal cleft – Usually not a lot going on in this area, except in penetrating injury. This is the only area of the naughty bits that can be safely examined in the lateral position.

Bottom line: The naughty bits are important because the occasional missed injury in this area can be catastrophic! Do your job and force yourself to overcome any reluctance to examine them.

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How To Tell If Research Is Crap

I recently read a very interesting article on research, and found it to be very pertinent to the state of academic research today. It was published on Manager Mint, a site that considers itself to be “the most valuable business resource.” (?) But the message is very applicable to trauma professionals, medical professionals, and probably anyone else who engages in research pursuits. The link to the full article is listed at the end of this post.

1. Research is not good because it is true, but because it is interesting.

Interesting research doesn’t just restate what is already known. It creates or explores new territory. Don’t just read and believe existing dogma.

Critique it.

Question it. Then devise a way to see if it’s really true.

2. Good research is innovative.

Some of the best ideas come from combining ideas from various disciplines.

Some of the best research ideas are derived from applying concepts from totally unrelated fields to your own.

That’s why I read so many journals, blogs, and newsfeeds from many different fields. And even if you are not doing the research, a broad background can help you sort out and gain perspective as you read the works of others.

3. Good research is useful.

Yes, basic bench level research can potentially be helpful in understanding all the nuances of a particular biochemical or disease process.But a lot of the time, it just demonstrates relatively unimportant chemical or biological reactions. And only a very small number actually contribute to the big picture. For most of us working at a macro level, research that could actually change our practice or policies is really what we need.

4. The best research should be empirically derived.

It shouldn’t rely on complicated statistical models. If it does, it means that the effect being measured is very subtle, and potentially not clinically significant. There is a big difference between statistical and clinical relevance.

Reference: If You Can’t Answer “Yes” To These 5 Questions, Your Research Is Rubbish. Garrett Stone. Click here to view on Manager Mint.

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