Category Archives: Trauma Center

The 30-Minute Rules: Response Times

In my last post, I reviewed the first component of the 30-minute rules, the actual criteria themselves. It’s not called a 30-minute response rule for no reason. There is an absolutely required time to respond that has been set at 30 minutes.  Today, I’ll look at an equally important component: the response time itself. Why do we have it, and when does the event start and stop?

So why does a rule like this exist? Is it to punish the providers who are being monitored, torturing them to get to the hospital as quickly as possible? No! As with so many of our performance improvement (PI) filters, they are designed to test many, many things. Some examples for this one are:

  • Recognition of a life or limb threatening condition by the in-hospital providers
  • Communications systems (ED clerk, pagers, phones, etc.)
  • The call schedule system
  • Clinician responsiveness and commitment (orthopedics, neurosurgery)
  • Nursing documentation
  • And more!

What is the actual time interval that must be measured? First, it does not start when the clinical condition in the criterion is recognized. If a patient has a large subdural hematoma with shift on CT scan, a radiologist must bring it to the attention of the advanced practice provider, emergency physician, or surgeon, who must then take the next step. The timer actually starts when the clinician causes the specialist to be notified. This may occur when the clerk pages or calls them, or when the clinicians do it directly.

One point of confusion: the clock does not start when the clinician responds to the page or call. What if they don’t call back for 45 minutes? Do they then have another 30 minutes to get to the hospital? No!! It starts when the first notification goes out.

So when does the clock stop? This one is easy. It occurs when the specialist who has been called gets to the patient’s bedside and begins the assessment.

One final thing about the clock? Does the clinician have to respond within the 30-minute time frame on every patient? Ideally, this would be great but it’s not realistic. There is no guidance in the Orange Book about a threshold. But if past experience is any indication, it is most likely a timely response somewhere around 80% of the time. But strive for perfection!

Tomorrow, I’ll list some ways to address the most challenging part of the 30-minute rules: actually recording the response times. And I’ll provide a best practice to help meet it.

 

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The 30-Minute Rules: What Are They Exactly?

Yesterday, I talked about the new 30-minute rules for orthopedics and neurosurgery in general terms. Today, I’ll write about the who and what.

The rules state that a service representative “must be present and respond within 30 minutes based on institutional-specific criteria.” The response needs to be in person and not by phone. But who can it be? The Clarification Document states that the response can be met by an orthopedic surgery resident, mid-level provider, or the orthopedic surgeonHowever, if a resident or midlevel respond, they must document their communication with the orthopedic surgeon in their note.

The neurosurgery service representative is not as clearly spelled out. However, it is presumed that this person meets the same requirements as for orthopedics: resident, midlevel, or neurosurgeon.

The most important issue the trauma program must address is the selection of the actual criteria.  Here are some tips to guide you:

  • Select only a few. Three is a good number. Any more than this will tax your specialists.
  • Choose good criteria that your orthopedic surgeon or neurosurgeon would absolutely want to be there  in 30 minutes for. See my examples below.
  • Make sure they are very specific. Vague terms like “TBI” or “open fracture” would result in your specialist being called in way too often.
  • Ensure that the criteria do not rely on the judgement of the specialist. For example, language such as “a subdural requiring operative intervention” requires the neurosurgeon to pass judgment from home and should be avoided.
  • One exception to the previous point: futile neurotrauma care. Your neurosurgeon may review the images from outside the trauma bay and pronounce the care futile. Howeverthey should document this clearly in a note in the chart as soon as possible. And they had better not change their mind later.
  • Avoid vague language like “when requested by the trauma team.”

So what are some good criteria? Here are a few:

  • Ortho
    • Mangled extremity
    • Dysvascular limb
    • Compartment syndrome
    • Unstable pelvic fracture
    • Open pelvic fracture with external hemorrhage
  • Neurosurgery (you/they pick the exact numbers)
    • Subdural/epidural > x mm
    • Subdural/epidural with midline shift > x mm
    • Subdural/epidural with impending herniation
    • Open skull fracture with brain extrusion
    • Brain extrusion from nose/ear
    • Decrease in GCS of > x points
    • Unilateral dilated pupil with GCS < x points
    • Spinal cord injury with unstable spine

This is not a comprehensive, list, but hopefully you get the idea. Each center needs to develop their own list, with input from their specialists. Once agreed upon, these should be put into policy and approved at the trauma program operations committee.

Tomorrow: call and response.

 

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Trauma Centers: The 30-Minute Rules for Orthopedic Surgery and Neurosurgery

I’m kicking of a week-long series for trauma program leaders that explains the details of a trauma center requirement that creates confusion for many. With the adoption of the 2014 Resources for Optimal Care of the Injured Patient (i.e. The Orange Book), a number of new requirements were introduced to obtain and maintain status as an American College of Surgeons verified trauma center. One (or actually two) of the requirements for Level I and II centers are known collectively as the 30-minute rules.

The 30-minute rules apply to both orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons. They state that care must be continuously available and that a service representative “must be present and respond within 30 minutes based on institutional-specific criteria.” And most who peruse the Orange Book have already realized, any phrase that contains the word must denotes that failure to meet the requirement will result in a deficiency during a site review, whereas the word shall means that it will likely result in a weakness.

For the rest of the week, I’ll work through these requirements. I will describe what they mean and what some typical institutional-specific criteria are. I will explain who is actually required to respond. I’ll work through the logistics of being able to accurately record their response time, and offer best practices for how to capture it. And finally, I’ll look at the consequences of not meeting these criteria.

Tomorrow: Typical criteria for orthopedic surgery and orthopedics.

 

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When Should You Activate Your Backup Trauma Surgeon?

The American College of Surgeons requires all US Trauma Centers to publish a call schedule that includes a backup trauma surgeon. This is important for several reasons:

  • It maintains a high level of care when the on-call surgeon is encumbered with multiple critical patients, or has other on-call responsibilities such as acute care surgery
  • It reduces the need to place the entire trauma center on divert due to surgeon issues

However, the ACS does not provide any guidance regarding the criteria for and logistics of mobilizing the backup surgeon. In my mind, the guiding principle is a simple one:

The backup should be called any time a patient is occupying the on-call surgeon’s time to the extent that they cannot manage the care of a newly arrived (or expected to arrive) patient with critical needs that only the surgeon can provide.

There’s a lot of meat in that sentence, so let’s go over it in detail. 

First, the on-call surgeon must already be busy. This means that they are actively managing one or more patients. Depending on the structure of the call system, they may be involved with trauma patients, general/acute care surgery patients, ICU patients, or a combination thereof. Busy means tied up to the point that they cannot meaningfully manage another patient.

Note that I did not say “evaluate another patient.” Frequently, it is possible to have a resident (at an appropriate training level) or advanced practice provider (APP) see the new patient while the surgeon is tied up, say in the operating room. They can report back, and the surgeon can then weigh his or her choices regarding the level of management that will be needed. Or if operating with a chief resident, it may be possible for the surgeon to briefly leave the OR to see the second patient or quickly check in on the trauma resuscitation. Remember, our emergency medicine colleagues can easily run a trauma activation and provide initial care for major trauma patients. They just can’t operate on them.

What if the surgeon is in the OR? Should they call the backup every time they are doing a case at night? Or every time a trauma activation is called while they are doing one? In my opinion, no. The chance of having a highest level trauma activation called is not that high, and as above, the surgeon, resident, or APP may be able to assess how much attention the new patient is likely to need. But recognize that the surgeon may not meet the 15 minute trauma activation attendance requirement set forth by the ACS.

However, once such a patient does arrive (or there is notification that one of these patients is on the way), call in the backup surgeon. These would include patients that are known to, or are highly suspected of needing immediate operative management. Good examples are penetrating injuries to the torso with hemodynamic problems, or those with known uncontrolled bleeding (e.g. mangled extremity).

If two or more patients are being managed by the surgeon, and they believe that they would not be able to manage another, it’s a good idea to notify the backup that they may be needed. This lets them plan their evening better to ensure rapid availability.

Finally, what is the expected time for the backup to respond and arrive at the hospital to help? There is no firm guideline, but remember, your partner and the patient are asking for your assistance! In my opinion, total time should be no more than 30 minutes. If it takes longer, then the trauma program should look at its backup structure and come up with a way to meet this time frame.

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Best of AAST #3: Level I vs Level II Trauma Centers

There is an ongoing debate over the differences between Level I vs Level II trauma centers in the US. On paper, the major differences include resident rotations in trauma, research, and the available of certain specialty surgeons and services. There have been several papers that look at survival differences between the two levels.

One podium paper at AAST 2018 re-examines this debate. It is a medium-sized pooled series that looks at a particular type of injury, pelvic ring fractures. These injuries can be complex, and many times require specialized orthopedic expertise. ACS Level I centers are required to have at least one Orthopedic Trauma Association fellowship-trained surgeon among their orthopedists. This is not required for Level II centers, but many do have them.

The group at the University of Michigan examined patients with partially stable or unstable pelvic ring injuries in a trauma collaborative database including 29 Level I and Level II centers over a 7-year period. They used propensity matching to compare 610 patients admitted to Level I and 610 patients admitted to Level II centers with these injuries:

Here are the factoids:

  • Mortality was significantly increased at Level II centers ( 12%) vs Level I centers (8%)
  • Angiography was used significantly less at Level II centers (6% vs 11%)
  • Complex repairs were used significantly less frequently at Level II centers (32% vs 42%)
  • Patients were significantly less likely to be admitted to an ICU at Level II centers, and were more often admitted to stepdown units (45% vs 52%)
  • Failure to rescue rate was lower (better) in ICU patients

Bottom line: Obviously, there are some limitations to using this pooled data, but it does provide larger numbers than many similar papers have. It cannot distinguish Level II centers that have OTA-trained orthopedic surgeons from those that do not. But the results are rather striking. It’s not clear exactly which of the institutional differences might be responsible for the improved mortality, and they all probably contribute to some degree. But the abstract appears to show that Level II centers are not just non-academic Level Is. This work suggests that certain injury patterns really should be transferred to a center with the specialized resources to treat it well.

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