Tag Archives: diagnosis

Delayed Diagnosis In Kids: How Often?

Delayed or missed diagnoses happen. It’s a reflection on the state of technology and our own diagnostic acumen. Unfortunately, a few cases of delayed diagnosis result in morbidity, potential lawsuits, and rarely, death.

How often does delayed diagnosis occur? A few spot check type articles were published about 15 years ago, but little has been done to slice and dice the data. And as usual, the old data ranged widely in its assessment of the incidence of this problem (1-18% !). However, I managed to find a (somewhat) more recent one that gives a little clearer picture of this issue.

A single pediatric hospital in Indiana reported its experience from 1997 to 2006. This interval included the time that it was verified as a Level II Trauma Center (2000 onwards). They included children 0-14 who had sustained “major trauma.” This was defined as multiple system injuries, high-energy impacts, and gunshots. In this study, delayed diagnosis was defined as one found after a stable patient was admitted to their room. In patients taken directly to OR, it was one found after the patient left the recovery room.

Here are the factoids:

  • 1100 patients met study criteria. 98% were blunt trauma.
  • Only 44 patients had delayed diagnoses of 47 injuries
  • Average time to diagnosis was 4 days (range 8 hours to 28 days)
  • 34% of diagnoses were made within 24 hours
  • 3 diagnoses were made at a followup visit, all for upper extremity/should fractures
  • 80% of delayed diagnoses required a change in therapy, most commonly a sling or cast. 15% required surgery.
  • The long-term delayed diagnosis rate was 4%

Bottom line: Delayed diagnosis remains an issue in patient of all ages. The reported 4% rate subjectively seems about right to me. The most important lesson from this study is the extremely high percentage of delayed diagnoses that required further therapy. This is why it is so important to implement a specific system (the tertiary survey) to seek out these diagnoses.

A tertiary survey is a repeat head-to-toe physical exam and a review of all radiographic imaging performed to date. The trauma center should define the time interval from admission, and I recommend no more than 24-48 hours. We do not count any diagnoses found during this exam as being delayed. However, if a tertiary exam was not performed, or injuries are found after it was completed, we do consider it delayed an run it through our performance improvement process.

Related posts:

Reference: Ten-Year Retrospective Study of Delayed Diagnosis of Injury in Pediatric Trauma Patients at a Level II Trauma Center. Pediatric Emerg Care 25(8)-489-493, 2009.

Bowel Sounds, Or Just Plain BS?

“Bowel sounds are normal”

How often do you see this on an H&P? Probably a lot more often than they are actually listened for, I would wager. But what do they really mean? Are they important to trauma professionals?

(Un)fortunately, there’s not a whole lot of research that’s looked at this mundane item. And pretty much all of it deals with surgical pathology (e.g. SBO) or the state of the postop abdomen. Over the years, papers have been published about the basics, and I will summarize them below:

  • Where to listen? Traditionally, auscultation is carried out in all four abdominal quadrants. However, sound transmission is such that listening centrally is usually sufficient.
  • Listen before palpation? Some papers suggest that palpation may stimulate peristalsis, so you should listen first.
  • How long should you listen? Reports vary from 30 seconds to 7 minutes (!)
  • Significance? This is the big question. We’re not expecting to find hyperactive or high pitched sounds suggestive of surgical pathology here. Really, we’re just looking for sounds or no sounds.

But does it make a difference whether we hear anything or not?

Bottom line: In trauma, we don’t care about BS! We’ve all had patients with minimal injury and no bowel sounds, as well as patients with severe abdominal injury and normal ones. We certainly don’t have time to spend several minutes listening for something that has no bearing on our clinical assessment of the patient. Skip this unnecessary part of the physical exam, and continue on with your real evaluation!

Reference: A critical review of auscultating bowel sounds. Br J Nursing 18(18):1125-1129, 2009.

Bowel Sounds, Or Just Plain BS?

“Bowel sounds are normal”

How often do you see this on an H&P? Probably a lot more often than they are actually listened for, I would wager. But what do they really mean? Are they important to trauma professionals?

(Un)fortunately, there’s not a whole lot of research that’s looked at this mundane item. And pretty much all of it deals with surgical pathology (e.g. SBO) or the state of the postop abdomen. Over the years, papers have been published about the basics, and I will summarize them below:

  • Where to listen? Traditionally, auscultation is carried out in all four abdominal quadrants. However, sound transmission is such that listening centrally is usually sufficient.
  • Listen before palpation? Some papers suggest that palpation may stimulate peristalsis, so you should listen first.
  • How long should you listen? Reports vary from 30 seconds to 7 minutes (!)
  • Significance? This is the big question. We’re not expecting to find hyperactive or high pitched sounds suggestive of surgical pathology here. Really, we’re just looking for sounds or no sounds.

But does it make a difference whether we hear anything or not?

Bottom line: In trauma, we don’t care about BS! We’ve all had patients with minimal injury and no bowel sounds, as well as patients with severe abdominal injury and normal ones. We certainly don’t have time to spend several minutes listening for something that has no bearing on our clinical assessment of the patient. Skip this unnecessary part of the physical exam, and continue on with your real evaluation!

Reference: A critical review of auscultating bowel sounds. Br J Nursing 18(18):1125-1129, 2009.

Diagnosing Facial Fractures With CT

Facial fractures are common after major blunt trauma. There are a number of diagnostic tests available for their diagnosis, including head CT, conventional facial imaging and facial CT.

Our preference has been to add a facial CT to the list of diagnostics in any patient with external evidence of facial trauma. Subjectively, it appeared that there were not many injuries being identified, and the vast majority did not require operative management. 

A review of the literature shows that head CT alone is sufficient for screening for significant facial fractures. A small retrospective series noted that the accuracy was 92%, with 90% sensitivity and 95% specificity. 

Bottom line: A head CT alone ordered for the usual indications is a very good screening test for facial fractures. If none are seen, it is unlikely that there are any fractures that require specific management. If fractures are seen, consultation with a facial surgeon is needed. However, unless the fractures involve critical areas (e.g. temporal bone near the middle ear) or are significantly displaced, the benefit of a facial CT scan is still very low since most will be treated without operation.

Reference: Computed tomography of the head as a screening examination for facial fractures. Marinaro et al. Am J Emerg Med 25, 616-619, 2007.