Tag Archives: trauma activation

Best Practice: Use of CT Scan In Trauma Activations – Part 2

In my last post, I described how the unscheduled and random use of CT scan in trauma activations can interfere with normal radiology department workflow, creating access problems for other emergency and elective patients. Today, I’ll detail a project implemented at my hospital to analyze the magnitude of this problem and try to resolve it.

We started with a detailed analysis of how the scanner was being used for trauma activation patients. Regions Hospital has a single-tier trauma activation system, with no mechanism of injury criteria other than penetrating injury to the head, neck, and torso. There are usually about 850 activations per year, and traditionally the CT scanner has been “locked down” when the activation is announced. The CT techs would complete the current study on the table, then hold the scanner open until called or released by the trauma team.

Since we are a predominantly blunt trauma institution, we scan most stable patients. Our average time in the trauma bay is a bit less than 20 minutes. Add this time to the trauma activation prenotification time of up to 10 minutes, and the scanner has the potential to sit idle for up to half an hour. And in some cases when scan is not needed (minor injuries, rapid transport to OR) the techs were not notified and were not aware they could continue scanning their scheduled cases.

A multidisciplinary group was created and started with direct observation of the trauma activation process and a review of chart documentation and radiology logs. On average it was calculated that the scanner was held idle for an average of 17.9 minutes too long. This is more than enough time to complete one, or even two studies!

A new process was implemented that required the trauma team leader to call out to the ED clerk placing orders for the resuscitation 5 minutes before the patient would be ready for scan. I still remember the first time this happened to me. I was so used to just packing up and heading to scan, I got a little irritated when told that I hadn’t made the 5-minute call. But it’s a good feedback loop, and I never forgot again!

We studied our workflow and results over a 9-week period. And here are the factoids:

  • The average CT idle time for trauma activations before the project was 17.9 minutes
  • This decreased to an average idle time of 6.4 minutes during the pilot project
  • Total idle time for all activations was 8.3 hours, but would have been 36 hours under the old system
  • A total of 28.6 hours were freed up, which allowed an additional 114 patients to be scanned while waiting for the trauma activation patients

This was deemed a success, and the 5-minute rule is now part of the routine flow of our trauma activations. We rarely ever have to wait for CT, and if we do it’s usually due to the team leader not thinking ahead.

Bottom line: This illustrates the processes that should be used when a quality problem surfaces in your program:

  • Recognize that there is a problem
  • Convene a small group of experts to consider the nuances
  • Generate objective data that describes the problem in detail
  • Put on your thinking caps to come up with creative solutions
  • Test the solutions until you find one that shows the desired improvement
  • Be prepared to modify your new systems over time to ensure they continue to meet your needs

Best Practice: Use of CT Scan In Trauma Activations – Part 1

Computed tomography is an essential part of the diagnostic workup for many trauma patients. However, it’s a limited resource in most hospitals. Only so many scanners are affordable and available.  Typically, trauma centers have a scanner located in or very near the trauma bay, which makes physical access easy. Others may be located farther away, which can pose logistical and safety issues for critically injured patients.

Even if the CT is close to the ED, availability can be an issue. This availability applies not only to trauma scans, but to others as well. There is an expectation that CT be immediately available when needed for trauma activation patients. However, chances are that the same scanner is also used for high priority scans for services other than trauma, such as stroke evaluation.

Who gets the scanner first? Obviously, many trauma patients need rapid diagnosis for treatment of their serious injuries. But a fresh stroke patient also has a neurologic recovery countdown clock running if they might be eligible for lytic administration.

And don’t forget that trauma and stroke aren’t the only services vying for that scanner. The hospital undoubtedly has a stream of elective scans queued up for other in-house patients. Every urgent or emergent scan needed for trauma sets the elective schedule back another 30 minutes or more.

How does your trauma center manage CT scan usage for trauma? The vast majority essentially lock it down at some fixed point. This is typically either upon trauma activation, or at patient arrival. The former is very common, but also very wasteful because there can be a significant wait for the patient to actually arrive. Then add on the time it takes to complete the trauma bay evaluation. Up to an hour may pass, with no throughput in the CT scanner. This can be a major work flow headache for your radiology department.

Is there another way? My center was one of those that stopped the scanner after the current patient was finished at the time the trauma activation was called. We have two scanners just 30 feet from the trauma bays, so one could continue working while the other was held. However, this cut their throughput by 50% for roughly half an hour. We recognized that this was a creating a problem for the whole hospital, so we worked with the radiology department to come up with a better way.

Tomorrow I’ll detail the new system we implemented, and provide data showing the real impact of this new system on CT scan productivity.

When Did The Surgeon Arrive At The Trauma Activation?

All trauma centers have mandatory arrival requirements for the surgeon at their highest-level trauma activations. Most Level I and II centers abide by the American College of Surgeons (ACS) requirement of 15 minutes after patient arrival. Level III centers typically mandate 30 minutes for their highest-level activation. And failure to meet these criteria can actually lead to loss of verification.

But what is the best way to record this critical piece of information? A number of methods have been used over the years. The earliest was simply recording the time of surgeon arrival on the paper trauma flow sheet. This has evolved over the years as technology has advanced. Most hospitals have installed badge swipe systems, since name badges have become nearly ubiquitous for gaining access to restricted areas within the hospital. A paper published last year details one hospital’s experience using a badge swipe system to do just this.

A NYC metro area Level I center started using a name badge swipe system to record the surgeon’s arrival in the ED for trauma activations several years ago. They examined their trauma activation data over a 7 month period at the end of 2016. Surgeon arrival times were recorded on the trauma flow sheet, and the electronic swipe information was included to supplement flow sheet results.

Here are the factoids:

  • There were 531 trauma activations during the study period, with 50 highest-level activations and 481 limited activations
  • The overall paper trauma flow sheet completion rate was 50% without card swipe data (!!)
  • For highest-level activations, surgeon presence was documented in 76%, but they arrived on time (< 15 minutes) only 70% of the time (!!!)
  • For intermediate-level activations, surgeon arrival was recorded 47% of the time and the surgeon was on time 45% of the time (I’m running out of exclamation points!!)
  • After including the badge swipe data, overall completion rate “improved” to 70%, which broke down to 90% in highest-level and 68% in the intermediate level activations
  • Surgeon compliance with arrival times improved to 84% and 63% for the two activation levels

The authors blamed the poor record keeping and compliance on “the fast pace of an ED.” They concluded that the badge swipe system was successful in increasing documentation and arrival compliance.

Bottom line: Oh, this is a fail on so many levels! First, surgeon arrival timeliness was appalling both with and without the badge swipe data. It started at 50% and increased to a barely passing score of 84%. And since this center only receives 100 highest-level activations per year, just a few more slip-ups could easily result in their loss of Level I verification. The increase in arrival compliance after adding badge data could be due to better documentation or better response because the surgeon knew they were being watched (Hawthorne effect).

Obviously, there are many reasons for documentation problems. The surgeon may have, indeed, been late. The scribe may not have been paying attention, or forgot to write the time in because things were busy. The flow sheet could be poorly designed, or worse, electronic.

The addition of technology to overcome human limitations is not the panacea many think it is. First, it’s expensive, especially if new gadgets are being purchased. In this case, it’s the same card swipe technology that is already present in the hospital. So there’s no additional cost in this case.

But it is always more work for some of the humans involved. Card swipe systems do not automatically integrate with a trauma flow sheet, even an electronic one. So some poor human will be tasked with getting the badge swipe report from security. Then, they will have to pore over the myriad card swipes and match the activation times to the data seen on the report. This can be time consuming in a busy ED.

I am still a big believer in personal responsibility. The key players, namely the surgeons, need to feel responsible for reporting their arrival time as a statistic vital to verification of their center. Only when they actually do, and this becomes part of the culture of the entire trauma team, will documentation and compliance approach perfection!

Reference: Implementation of a Radio-frequency Identification System to Improve the Documentation and Compliance of Attending Physicians’ Arrival to Trauma Activations. Cureus 10(11):e3582, 2018.

Glasgow Coma Scale For Trauma Activation: What’s The Optimal Score?

Last month, I posted a survey to  find out the Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) values trauma centers were using to trigger their highest level trauma activation. Nearly 150 people responded, providing a nice snapshot of practices worldwide. Today, I’ll summarize the responses and provide a bit of commentary about them.

There were a total of 147 respondents from around the world. I tried to eliminate duplicates from the same center using a self-reported postal code. However, this was an optional field, so there is the possibility that a few crept in. Readers from at least six countries outside the US also responded.

The question  was: “What is the highest GCS score that triggers a top-level trauma activation at your trauma center?”

Here is a chart that shows the results. The proper way to read it is “a trauma activation is called if GCS < xx” where xx is the score under the bar in the chart.

The whole point to calling a trauma activation is to have the full trauma team and infrastructure (labs, imaging, blood, etc.) in place to rapidly assess a patient with life-threatening injuries. In theory this should afford them the best probability of survival.

So what is the optimal GCS score to activate your trauma team? Unfortunately, this remains difficult to answer exactly. From the chart, you can see that the most common scores were 8, 9, and 13. Why such a spread?

The GCS 8 and 9 levels are a no-brainer (ha!). These patients are comatose or nearly so, and obviously need prompt attention such as airway control, head CT, and neurosurgical consultation. But what about the patients with GCS 13? They have lost two points, typically for eye-opening and verbal response. This may indeed indicate  a significant head injury. But all too often we see this same score in patients who are intoxicated. Do we really need (or want) to activate the full team for each and every intoxicated patient? Can we screen them out in some way?

The answer to both questions is yes. The most important tip is to know your patient population. There is an association between GCS and need for operative intervention that was oft-quoted in the ATLS course. However, I have not been able to find a definitive paper on this topic.

I recommend that you tap into your trauma registry and create a chart that shows presenting GCS vs early neuro-intervention (ICP monitor or craniectomy within 24 hours). Find the GCS score where you see a “significant” bump in the number needing a procedure, and use this as your trauma activation threshold. This report will automatically take into account the number of intoxicated patients you treat.

I would also recommend you do a separate report on age vs need for neuro-intervention with GCS<15. The older population tends to require craniectomy for TBI more often and at higher GCS levels than younger people. You may factor this into your single GCS criterion, or add a separate one at a different level for patients over 55, or 60, or whatever reflects your patient age mix.

Bottom line: Make sure your GCS trauma activation criteria adequately identify your patients who truly have a need for speed in their trauma evaluation. A GCS of 8 or 9 may be too low, and a score in the teens is probably more appropriate for most centers. Use your trauma registry to determine the best score for you so you can capture the patients who have critical needs while trying to keep overtriage under control.

 

The Trauma Activation Pat-Down?

Yes, this is another one of my pet peeves. During a trauma activation, we all strive to adhere to the Advanced Trauma Life Support protocols. Primary survey, secondary survey, etc. Usually, the primary survey is done well.

But then we get to the secondary survey, and things get sloppy.

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The secondary survey is supposed to be a quick yet thorough physical exam, both front and back. But all too often it’s quick, and not so thorough. There is the usual laying on of the hands, but barely. Abdominal palpation is usually done well. But little effort is put into checking stability of the pelvis. The extremities are gently patted down with the hope of finding fractures. Joints are slightly flexed, but not stressed at all.

Is it just a slow degradation of physical exam skills? Is it increasing (and misguided) faith in the utility of the CT scanner? I don’t really know. But it’s real!

Bottom line: Watch yourself and your team as they perform the secondary survey! Your goal is to find all the injuries you can before you go to imaging. This means deep palpation, twisting and trying to bend extremities looking for fractures, stressing joints looking for laxity. And doing a good neuro exam! Don’t let your physical exam skills atrophy! Your patients will thank you.