Tag Archives: prehospital

Is The Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) Getting Too Old?

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is one of the leading causes of death from trauma worldwide. The assessment of TBI was revolutionized in 1976 when the GCS scale was first introduced. Shortly after its introduction, it was found to be predictive of outcome after brain injury. But it does have some drawbacks: it is somewhat complicated, and interrater reliability is low.

Interestingly, a number of studies have shown that the motor component of GCS is nearly as accurate as the full score in predicting survival. Thus, the Simplified Motor Score (SMS) was introduced as a possible substitute for the GCS in 2007. It was found to be equivalent for predicting survival when applied in the ED.

SMS scoring:

  • Obeys commands = 2
  • Localizes pain = 1
  • Withdraws (or less) to pain = 0

So can this scale be validated in the field when applied by prehospital providers?

Nearly 10 years of data (almost 20,000 patients) from the Denver Health trauma registry was analyzed to attempt to validate SMS when used by EMS. Although the statistics were not perfect, they found that GCS and SMS were equivalent for predicting the presence of a brain injury, need for emergency intubation, need for neurosurgical intervention, and death. Interestingly, they found that both SMS and GCS were not quite as good at predicting overall outcomes as previously thought.

Bottom line: The simplified motor score is a simple system that has now been shown to be as accurate as GCS in predicting severity and outcome from head injury. To be clear, though, neither is a perfect system. They must still be combined with clinical and radiographic assessments to achieve the best accuracy. But SMS can and should be used both in-hospital and prehospital to get a quick assessment, and may help determine early intervention and need for activating the trauma team.


  • Assessment of coma and impaired consciousness: a practical scale. Lancet 2:81-84, 1976.
  • Assessment and prognosis of coma after head injury. Acta Neurochir (Wien) 34:45-55, 1976.
  • Validation of the simplified motor score in the out-of-hospital setting for the prediction of outcomes after traumatic brain injury. Ann Emerg Med, in press, Aug 2011.

Fatigue Week V: Final Thoughts

Fatigue is a major problem for many healthcare providers, from prehospital those working in post-discharge institutions. Some interesting and underappreciated statistics about work-related injuries and shift work:

  • Work related injuries increase on off-shifts. Compared to day shift, 15% more injuries occur on evenings and 28% more on nights.
  • When working long shifts, there is a 13% increase in injuries after 10 hours, and a 30% increase after 12 hours.
  • When working consecutive nursing shifts, there is an 8% increase in injury risk the 2nd night, a 38% increase the 3rd night, and a 70% increase the 4th night.

We know sleep deprivation and fatigue are bad. The laundry list of adverse effects is lengthy and includes confusion, memory problems, depression, weight gain, headache, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and as we’ve discussed all week, serious performance problems.

What can be done about it? The key is to raise awareness, along with acceptance of the remedies. Many hospital workplaces are doing something about it. Here are some successful interventions that reduce workplace fatigue:

  • Authorize a real break system. A break is a 30 minute period which is ideally away from the immediate work setting, where there are no disturbances (phone, pager)
  • Ensure effective “handoffs” between co-workers when taking breaks
  • Encourage workers to identify fatigue in their co-workers and find ways to decrease it
  • Modify schedules to adhere to the Institute of Medicine’s standards
       * No more than 20 hours of overtime a week
       * Limit the number of 12 hours shifts
       * No double shifts 

Some workplaces are unfortunately not as progressive, and the work culture takes pride in showing how individuals can “power through” even when tired. Just remember, this is bad for you and bad for your patients. As you grow older, it becomes even more difficult and dangerous. It’s only a matter of time before someone, somewhere goes too far, and they or their patient will end up “dead tired.”

Violating Resuscitation Guidelines for Prehospital Traumatic Arrest

Eight years ago, the National Association of Emergency Medical Services Physicians (NAEMSP) and the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma (ACS-COT) released guidelines regarding withholding or terminating resuscitation in traumatic cardiopulmonary arrest (TCPA). Survival rates were extremely low (<2%) and were thought to have poor outcomes. But validation of the guidelines has been challenging, and some even doubted that EMS personnel could accurately assess these patients in the field!!

Researchers at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Chicago performed a large retrospective study of all patients in TCPA brought to their hospital by the Chicago Fire Department over at 7.5 year period. These patients met exclusion criteria but had been resuscitated anyway. Their series was relatively large (294 patients), and looked not only at the ultimate outcome, but also at EMS performance and cost.

They found that field assessments by EMS were very accurate and consistent. Violation of the guidelines resulted in only 6 survivors, and they all were resuscitated to a neurologically devastated state (4 brain dead, 1 family withdrew support, 1 sent to TCU with long-term GCS 6). No loss of neurologically intact survivors would have occurred if the guidelines were followed. Finally, the cost of trying to resuscitate these patients was $385,000 per year.

Bottom line: EMS can and should apply the NAEMSP/ACS-COT criteria for traumatic cardiopulmonary arrest and withhold resuscitation for these patients. Tragically, it is an expensive waste of time to try to bring them back. 

To review the NAEMSP guidelines, click here.

Reference: The consequences of violating current guidelines regarding resuscitation of patients in prehospital traumatic arrest. Presented at the 34th annual Residents Trauma Paper Competition at the 89th Annual Meeting of the ACS Committee on Trauma, March 10, 2011.

The EMS Second IV In Trauma

One of the critical maneuvers that EMS providers perform is establishing initial vascular access. This IV is important for administering medications and for initiating volume resuscitation in trauma patients. Prehospital Trauma Life Support guidelines state that every trauma patient should receive two large bore IV lines. But is this really necessary?

The upside of having two IVs in the field is that the EMS provider can give lots of volume. However, a growing body of literature tells us that pushing systolic blood pressure up to “normal” levels in people (or animals) with an uncontrolled source of bleeding can increase mortality and hasten coagulopathy.

The downside of placing two lines is that it is challenging in a moving rig, sterility is difficult to maintain, and the chance of a needlestick exposure is doubled. So is it worth it?

A group at UMDNJ New Brunswick did a retrospective review of 320 trauma patients they received over a one year period who had IV lines established in the field. They found that, as expected, patients with two IVs received more fluid (average 348ml) before arriving at the hospital. There was no increase in systolic blood pressure, but there was a significant increase in diastolic pressure with two lines. The reason for this odd finding is not clear. There was no difference in the ultimate ISS calculated, or in mortality or readmission.

Bottom line: This study is limited by its design. However, it implies that the second field IV is not very useful. The amount of extra fluid infused was relatively small, not nearly enough to trigger additional bleeding or coagulopathy. So if another IV does not deliver significant additional fluid and could be harmful even if it did, it’s probably not useful. Prehospital standards organizations should critically look at this old dogma to see if it should be modified.


  • Study of placing a second intravenous line in trauma. Prehospital Emerg Care 15:208-213, 2011.

Scoop and Run or Stay and Play for Trauma Care?

Scoop and run vs stay and play are traditionally EMS concepts. Do I stay at the scene to perform invasive procedures, or do I perform the minimum I can and get to the nearest hospital?

For trauma patients time is the enemy and there is a different flavor of scoop and run vs stay and play. Do I take the patient to a nearby hospital that is not a high level trauma center to stay and play, or do I scoop and run to the nearest Level I or II center?

Admissions to a group of 8 trauma centers were analyzed over a 3 year period. A total of 1112 patients were studied. Patients were divided into two groups: those who were taken directly to a Level I trauma center (76%), and those who were transferred from another hospital (24%). 

Patients who were taken to a non-trauma center first received 3 times more IV crystalloid, 12 times more blood, and were nearly 4 times more likely to die!

Obviously, the cause of this increased mortality cannot be determined from the data. The authors speculate that patients may undergo more aggressive resuscitation with crystalloid and blood at the outside hospital making them look better than they really are, and then they die. Alternatively, they may have been under-resuscitated at the outside hospital, making it more difficult to ensure survival at the trauma center.

Bottom line: this is an interesting paper, but there are a number of flaws that prevent us from mandating that all trauma patients should go directly to the trauma center. The authors never really define a “nontrauma hospital.” Does a Level III or IV center count? How did patients who stayed at the outside hospital do?

A lot of work needs to be done to add detail to this work. In the meantime, we have to trust our experienced prehospital providers to determine who really needs to go to the closest appropriate center, and what that really is.

Reference: Scoop and run to the trauma center or stay and play at the local hospital: hospital transfer’s effect on mortality. J Trauma 69(3):595-601, 2010.