Tag Archives: transfer

When Is It Not An “Unplanned ICU Admission?”

All US trauma centers verified by the American College of Surgeons (ACS) must now subscribe to the ACS Trauma Quality Improvement Program (TQIP). This program allows each center to benchmark themselves against other trauma centers that are just like them (level, volume, acuity, etc).  Every quarter, TQIP members receive a report that details their performance in a number of key categories. The report slices and dices a large number of data points, and shows how they compare to those other trauma centers.

One of the more interesting portions of the TQIP report deals with risk-adjusted complications. The one I wrote about yesterday, the “ICU bounce back,” is officially called an “unplanned ICU admission.”

I’ve had several trauma centers ask me what constitutes an unplanned ICU admission. Is it any bounce back? What about patients who were never in the ICU?

This questions is particularly important to me because my own center’s TQIP report shows that we have a significant number of unplanned ICU admissions. But I know for a fact that they are not surprises. We have an inpatient trauma unit, with capabilities somewhere between the usual ward bed and an ICU bed. Patients can get telemetry, continuous oximetry, vital signs every 2 hours, and more. It functions as a kind of step-down unit, so we frequently admit patients who may require ICU admission at other hospitals.

Every once in a while, a patient who is receiving care in the trauma unit shows signs that they are going to need a true ICU level of care. In that case, we promptly move them to the ICU before they decompensate any further.

Is that situation an “unplanned ICU admission?” In my opinion, no. The patient received the highest level of care while outside the ICU, and ultimately a considered decision was made to move them. In my mind, this is a “planned ICU admission.”

Bottom line: There are two issues at play if your “unplanned ICU admissions” get flagged on your TQIP report. The first is determining if it was truly unplanned. If the Rapid Response Team (RRT) was called, then it was almost certainly unplanned. But if the patient was being monitored properly, showed signs that they would need an ICU level of care, and was preemptively transferred there, it was not. Similarly, if one of your surgical specialists wants the patient transferred (e.g. MAP goals), then that is also a planned admission.

The second factor is figuring out why the admissions are getting reported to TQIP as unplanned. This is usually a trauma registrar issue. They may be looking for any ward to ICU transfer, and classifying it as unplanned. Educate all your registrars on the nuances of what is planned and what isn’t.

If you are on the receiving end of a TQIP variance on unplanned ICU admissions, use the drill-down tool to identify the exact patient records involved. Review the involved medical records, paying close attention to vital signs, monitoring, and all decision making leading up to the time of the ICU transfer. If it isn’t truly unplanned, educate your registrars. But if it is, make sure that it was properly dealt with by your trauma performance improvement program.

Do I Have To Call My Trauma Team For Incoming Transfers?

I had a great question sent in by a reader last week:

Some trauma centers receive a number of transfers  from referring hospitals. Much of the time, a portion of the workup has already been done by that hospital. If the patient meets one or more of your trauma activation criteria, do you still need to activate your team when they arrive?

And the answer is: sometimes. But probably not that often.

Think about it. The reason you should be activating your team is that you suspect the patient may have an injury that demands rapid diagnosis and treatment. The purpose of any trauma activation is speed. Rapid evaluation. Fast lab results. Quick access to CT scan or OR. If a significant amount of time has already passed (transported to an outside hospital, worked up for an hour or two, then transported to you), then it is less likely that a trauma activation will benefit the patient.

There are four classes of trauma activation criteria. I’ll touch on each one and the need to activate in a delayed fashion if present, in priority order.

  • Physiologic. If there is a significant disturbance in vital signs while in transit to you (hypotension, tachycardia, respiratory problems, coma), then you must activate. Something else is going on that needs to be corrected as soon as the patient arrives. And remember the two mandatory ACS criteria that fall into this category: respiratory compromise/need for an emergent airway, and patients receiving blood to maintain vital signs. But a patient who needed an airway who is already intubated and no longer compromised does not need to be a trauma activation.
  • Anatomic. Most simple anatomic criteria (e.g. long bone or pelvic fractures) do not need a trauma activation unless the patient is beginning to show signs of physiologic compromise. However, anatomic criteria that require rapid treatment or access to the OR (proximal amputations, mangled or pulseless extremities, spinal cord injury) should be activated.
  • Mechanism. Most of the vague mechanistic criteria (falls, pedestrian struck, vehicle intrusion) do not require trauma activation after transfer to you. But once again, if the mechanism suggests a need for further rapid diagnosis or treatment (penetrating injury to abdomen), then activate.
  • Comorbidities. This includes underlying diseases, extremes of age, and pregnancy. In general, these will not require trauma activation after they arrive.

Bottom line: In many cases, the patient transferred in from another hospital will not need to be a trauma activation, especially if they have been reasonably assessed there. The patient should be rapidly eyeballed by your emergency physicians, and if there is any doubt about their condition, activate then.

However, if little workup was done at the outside hospital (my preference), and the injuries are “fresh” (less than a few hours old), then definitely call your team. 

Related posts:

Potentially Avoidable Pediatric Transfers

Pediatric emergency and trauma care is not readily available across a sizable chunk of the US, particularly in rural areas. Couple this with the fact that many rural emergency providers are not necessarily trained in emergency medicine and may have little recent pediatric training fosters the common practice of transferring these injured children to a higher level of care.

And unfortunately, many of these transferred children have relatively simple issues that really don’t actually need a transfer. Some studies have reported that up to 40% of children sent to tertiary pediatric centers are sent home in less than 24 hours.

Most research in this area focuses on single medical center experiences. An article currently in press looks at the experience of the entire state of Iowa over a 10 year period. The authors looked at all claims data for children between ages 8 days and 18 years. Children who were transferred were compared to those who were not.

Here are the factoids:

  • 2 million cases were included in the study, and only 1% were transferred (21,319)
  • Children in rural areas were transferred 3x more often than those in urban areas
  • Only 63% were transferred to a designated children’s hospital, and 45% were sent to an ED rather than direct transfer to an inpatient bed
  • 39% were potentially avoidable transfers, meaning that they were discharged from the receiving ED or the hospital within 24 hours of admission
  • Two of the top 5 reasons for transfer were trauma related: fracture, and TBI without blood in the head.
  • The cost for potentially avoidable transfers in the top 5 categories was $2 million dollars (!)

Bottom line: This is a very comprehensive study that shows the magnitude and cost consequences of potentially inappropriate pediatric transfers. It was not designed to figure out what to do about it, but it provides some insight for the problem solvers out there. Since we know the top 5 transfer diagnoses (seizure, fracture, TBI without bleeding, respiratory infection, and asthma), we can start to work on systems to provide education to rural providers on these topics, as well as real-time interaction to help them determine the 60% that really do need a higher level of care. Telemedicine will eventually be a big part of this, but most areas around the country are still struggling to figure out the details. Stay tuned!

Reference: Potentially Avoidable Pediatric Interfacility Transfer is a Costly Burden for Rural Families: A Cohort Study. Acad Emerg Med 28 March 2016, in press.

The Referral Hospital Trauma Rule

The majority of trauma patients are seen initially at non-trauma centers. And the majority of those patients can be treated just fine at that local hospital. However, a few (some say about 15%) do need to be transferred. The question frequently arises, “what studies do I need to do before transferring?

The danger is that doing things that slow down the transfer can result in bad outcomes. For example, a patient may have a spleen injury that is actively bleeding. Every minute that this patient is not receiving “definitive treatment”, she loses more blood. And every cc of blood lost causes her to inch closer to shock, other complications, or death.

The key is to get people who need a higher level of trauma care on their way to a higher level trauma center as soon as the need is recognized. There is a natural tendency to do diagnostic studies, such as CT scan, in these patients. Sometimes they are needed to actually figure out what is going on. But more often they are obtained to “do a complete workup” or because “the trauma center expects me to.”

Unfortunately, these are incorrect assumptions. The complete workup cannot be used by the referral center if they are shipping the patient, and for a variety of reasons they may not be useful to the trauma center. This is one of the major reasons that referral patients receive extra radiation exposure. About half of the studies performed at the referral hospitals need to be repeated!

The Referral Hospital Trauma Rule: Do any simple study needed to ensure the patient will stay alive until the helicopter/ambulance arrives (typically chest or pelvic xray). If at any point, you see something obviously not treatable at your hospital (i.e. open fracture, GCS 8, partial amputation), DO NO FURTHER STUDIES AND PREPARE TO TRANSFER. If the patient does not have such an obvious problem, do only the tests you need to determine if you can keep the patient. But as soon as you find anything that you cannot treat, stop further studies and prepare to send the patient onward. And don’t forget to send working copies of the few studies that you did get.

Pediatric CT Scans Before Transfer to a Pediatric Trauma Center

CT scan is essential in diagnosing injury, although concerns for unnecessary radiation exposure are growing. These concerns are even greater in children, who may be more likely to have long-term effects from it. This makes avoiding duplication of CT scanning extremely important.

Unfortunately, there are only about 50 pediatric trauma centers in the US, so the majority of seriously injured children are seen at another hospital before transfer. Does CT evaluation at the first hospital increase the likelihood that a repeat scan will be needed at the trauma center, increasing radiation exposure and risk?

Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati looked at 3 years of transfers of injured children from community hospitals. They then looked at how many of those children had an initial head and/or abdomen scan at the outside hospital, and whether a repeat scan of those areas was performed within 4 hours or arrival at Rainbow.

Numbers were small, but here are the results:

  • 33 had an outside CT scan, 28 (90%) were repeated
  • 6 had an outside abdominal scan, 2 (33%) were repeated
  • 55 did not have outside scans, none were repeated at Rainbow. (This is a weird thing to look at. I would hope that the trauma center didn’t have to repeat any of their own scans within 4 hours!)

Bottom line: It is critically important for referring hospitals to use radiation wisely! First, if the patient has obvious injuries that require transfer, don’t scan, just send. If you need to scan to decide whether you can keep the patient, use the best ALARA* technique you can. And trauma centers, please send a copy of your CT protocols to your referring hospitals so they can get the best images possible.

*ALARA = As low as reasonably achievable (applied to radiation exposure). Also known as ALARP outside of North America (as low as reasonably practicable). Click here for more info.

Related posts:

Reference: Computed tomography before transfer to a level I pediatric trauma center risks duplication with associated radiation exposure. J Pediatric Surg 43(12): 2268-2272, 2008.