Tag Archives: guidelines

Helicopter EMS: The Benefits?

The use of medical helicopters has grown at an astonishing rate in the 10+ years since Medicare got involved with payment for this service. All high level trauma centers have helicopter landing facilities, and many either own or are a part owner in at least one helicopter EMS service (HEMS).

Here’s a state by state breakdown of the number of medical helicopters:

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It’s gotten to the point where the indication for summoning a HEMS service seems to be the presence of a patient to ride on it! 

A lot of papers have been published in the past 20 years trying to justify the benefits of using these services. As is the usually case when a lot of papers are published on one subject, most of them are not very good. Lots of studies have been performed to try to justify their use, and most were not successful. The following items have been scrutinized:

  • Interfacility transfers
  • Trauma
  • Pediatric transfers 
  • Pediatric trauma
  • Burns
  • OB
  • Neonatal
  • Rural trauma

Most of these papers found little, if any, benefit. The ones that did tended to be published by institutions that owned these services, raising the question of bias. The one thing that was always significantly different was the cost. HEMS costs at least 10 times more that ground EMS transport.

So the benefits are not very clear. What about the risks? I’ll talk about those tomorrow.

Click here to view the interactive state map of medical helicopters. See where your state is with respect to number of ships and services, and how busy they are.

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When To Image The Aorta In Blunt Trauma

Blunt injury to the thoracic aorta is one of those potentially devastating ones that you (and your patient) can’t afford to miss. Quite a bit has been written about the findings and mechanisms. But how do you put it all together and decide when to order a screening CT?

There are a number of high risk findings associated with blunt aortic injury. Recognize that they are associated with the injury, but are still not very common. They are:

  • Fractures of the sternum or first rib
  • Wide mediastinum
  • Displacements of mediastinal structures (left mainstem down, trachea right, esophagus right)
  • Loss of the aortopulmonary window
  • Apical cap over the left lung

Here’s a sensible method for screening for blunt aortic injury, using CT scan:

  • Reasonable mechanism (fall from greater than 20 feet, pedestrian struck, motorcycle crash, car crash at “highway speed”) PLUS any one of the high risk findings above.
  • Extreme mechanism alone (e.g. car crash with closing velocity at greater than highway speed, torso crush)

Note on torso crush: I have seen three aortic injuries from torso crush in my career, one from a load of plywood falling onto the patient’s chest, one from dirt crushing someone when the trench they were digging collapsed, and one whose chest was run over by a car.

How To Properly Use Your Consultants

Trauma surgeons often rely on consultants to assist in the care of their patients. Orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons are some of the more frequent consultants, but a variety of other surgical and medical specialists may be needed. I have found that providing a set of guidelines to consultants helps to ensure quality care and provide good communication between caregivers and patients / families.

We have disseminated a set of guidelines to our colleagues, and I wanted to touch on some of the main points. You can download the full document using the link at the bottom of this post.

In order to deliver the highest quality and most cost-effective care, we request that services we consult do the following:

  • Please introduce yourself to our patient and their family, and explain why you are seeing them.
  • Although you may discuss your findings with the patient, please discuss all recommendations with a member of the trauma service first. This avoids patient confusion if the trauma team chooses not to implement any recommendations due to other patient factors you may not be aware of.
  • Document your consultation results in writing (paper or EMR) in a timely manner.
  • If additional tests, imaging or medications are recommended, discuss with the trauma service first. We will write the orders or clear you to do so if appropriate, and will discuss the plan with the patient.
  • We round at specific times every day and welcome your attendance and input.
  • Please communicate any post-discharge instructions to us or enter in the medical record so we can expedite the discharge process and ensure all followup visits are scheduled.

Bottom line: A uniform “code of behavior” is important! Ensuring good patient communication is paramount. They need to hear the same plans from all of their caregivers or else they will lose faith in us. One of the most important lessons I have learned over the years is that you do not need to implement every recommendation that a consultant makes. They may not be aware of the most current trauma literature, and they will not be familiar with how their recommendations may impact other injuries. 

Click here to download the full copy of the Regions Hospital Trauma Services consultant guidelines.

The Societal Cost of ED Thoracotomy

ED thoracotomy can be a dramatic, life-saving procedure. From the patient’s perspective, there is only an upside to performing it; without it there is 100% mortality. But to trauma professionals, there is considerable downside risk, including accidental injury, disease transmission and wasted resources. What is the societal risk/cost if ED thoracotomy is performed for weak indications?

The trauma group at Sunnybrook in Toronto looked at this question by retrospectively reviewing 121 patients who underwent the procedure over a 17 year period. They looked at appropriateness, resource use and the safety of the trauma professionals involved. They used the following criteria to determine appropriateness:

  • Blunt trauma with an ED arrival time < 5 minutes
  • Penetrating torso injury with an ED arrival time < 15 minutes with signs of life

Most of the patients were young men (avg age 30) with 78% penetrating injury and 22% blunt. About half (51%) underwent thoracotomy for inappropriate indications. The vast majority of inappropriate cases were for penetrating injuries with long transport times. Only 3 of the inappropriate thoracotomies were for blunt trauma, yet 24 of the “appropriate” procedures were done in the face of blunt trauma.

Resource use in the 63 inappropriate cases included 433 lab tests, 14 plain images and 9 CT scans (!!!?), 6 cases in the OR, 244 units of packed red cells and 41 units of plasma. Accidental needlestick injuries occurred in 6% of the inappropriate thoracotomies. None of the patients receiving inappropriate thoracotomy survived.

Bottom line: ED thoracotomy remains a very dangerous procedure. I’ve previously written about guidelines to determine which ones are appropriate (see link below). In this study, many of the procedures were performed on patients with blunt trauma. That means that the number of inappropriate thoracotomies would have been much higher if today’s standards had been applied. So use the guidelines and save your own health, safety and hospital resources. Is it really worth it if you know the patient will not survive?

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Reference: Societal costs of inappropriate emergency department thoracotomy. J Amer Col Surg 214(1):18-26, 2012.

Emergency Care Of Bleeding From Dabigatran

Finally, a consensus report has been finalized by the Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement (ICSI) regarding bleeding in patients taking dabigatran (Pradaxa). I’ve written about the special problems posed by patients who are injured while taking this drug and related ones. I’ve also provided some management algorithms for consideration while complete ones were crafted. Well, here they are.

A workgroup of experts from hospitals here in Minnesota were convened to consider and provide a framework for managing these patients. A document was released recently to help guide their care.

To summarize, patients who experience a severe bleed, say from trauma, should be managed with:

  • Holding the medication
  • Evaluating bleeding. In trauma, this will generally involve CT scan.
  • Consider the need for surgery
  • Give activated charcoal if the drug was taken within 2 hours
  • Consider dialysis
  • Transfuse blood if hemoglobin / hematocrit needs to be improved
  • Infuse plasma after 4 units of red cells, and cryoprecipitate after 8 units packed cells / 4 units plasma if needed
  • Consider prothrombin complex concentrate or activated Factor VII in extreme cases

Click here to download the official document from ICSI.

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