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.
We are in the midst of Coronavirus mania! Every hospital in the country is scrambling to figure out what to do to meet the rapidly increasing demand for screening and access to care that has been so unexpectedly thrust upon us.
Trauma professionals will be profoundly affected as well. We are a scarce resource in the first place, and I’m speaking of those in all disciplines from prehospital through rehab. And since the SARS-CoV-2 virus seems to be so widespread and our testing abilities so limited, it is a challenge to protect ourselves from contracting it. Given how scarce we are, losing even a few to self-imposed quarantine (or worse) would be very disruptive to the health care of the trauma patients we normally take care of.
The key is to try to limit exposure to the Coronavirus as much as possible. Hospitals are now very diligent about screening patients and their families as they enter the hospital. However, the trauma activation patient is a potential wild card.
What can be done to protect the trauma professionals assembling to take care of a trauma activation patient, who should probably be considered infected until proven otherwise? The most obvious answer is to escalate the normal personal protective measures to include the same garb worn for treating patients with known or suspected infection. This includes N95 masks and full face shields.
Unfortunately, this is not practical due to the extreme shortages of this equipment. But what we can do is optimize our trauma team and provide a more informed and graduated response.
Here are my recommendations:
Drastically reduce overtriage. Most busy trauma centers have overtriage rates (trauma activation for patients with low acuity and/or do not meet activation criteria) around 50%, and sometimes higher. Frequently, these are patients who did not really need to be met by the full trauma team. How can you do this?
Eliminate superfluous activationcriteria; keep only your physiologic and anatomic ones. These generally correlate with Steps 1 and 2 of the CDC triage criteria for transfer to a trauma center used by your EMS providers. Eliminate all mechanism of injury criteria except for penetrating injury. This includes falls, pedestrian struck, vehicle intrusions, etc. Then eliminate anything else that doesn’t fall into these categories. You are essentially converting to a bare bones single-tier activation system.
Eliminate the ability of prehospital providers to call a field activation on anything other than your activation criteria (or Step 1 and Step 2 CDC criteria. This may be difficult or confusing if they service several centers that normally have different criteria. The person taking the radio/phone call and initiating the team page should not activate the team unless one of the physiologic or anatomic criteria are specifically mentioned. All other transports should be met by an emergency physician who will then use their clinical judgement to activate the full team.
Eliminate superfluous trauma team members. This includes students, shadowing providers, observers, extra residents, and anyone else who does not have an essential role in the room.
Call the entire team, but only use who you need. Determine the makeup of your core team. One physician, two nurses, a tech, and a scribe? This will vary by center. They should dawn protective gear that is as effective (and available) as possible. (This may not be face shields and N95 masks if you are a busy center and don’t have many in stock.) The others should remain available outside the room and be called in only if necessary (pharmacist, respiratory therapy, additional physicians or APPs, etc). All other normal team personnel can then be dismissed and disperse.
Release active team members who are no longer needed. As the resuscitation winds down and team members complete their tasks, send them away.
Reduce the post-resuscitation transport team to the minimum necessary. This will depend on the patient’s condition. Are they stable, awake, and alert? Or intubated and traveling with a rapid infuser? Assign personnel appropriately.
Bottom line: Things have changed for a while and the old rules may not completely apply. Critically look at everything you do to see if it is still reasonable and necessary. Always keep the safety of your patient at heart. But don’t lose sight of the fact that you won’t be able to help anyone in the future if you are quarantined at home.
This crisis will only last for a few months, but it should cause us to question business as usual. We may discover that some of what we do is not a necessary as we thought!
I’m very interested in what others are doing with their resuscitation teams and trauma services to increase safety. Please share on Twitter, or feel free to email me.
Okay, I’ve written about the lead gown pull-up several times. Here’s how it goes:
I wrote in some detail about when this is necessary for thyroid and thymus protection and how much radiation exposure the trauma team actually gets.
But recently I’ve noticed some members of my own trauma team failing to wear the lead aprons, AND leaving the room when x-rays are taken!
Here’s the thing. Yes, it is important to shield yourself when working in proximity to the x-ray machine when in use. But no, leaving the room is not an acceptable way of accomplishing this! The patient is relatively less attended, and by definition less gets done while several of the team members are outside the room waiting for x-the ray tech to shoot.
Here’s my solution: I make a special announcement as part of the team pre-briefing (before patient arrival) that the lead gown is part of their personal protective equipment (PPE). It is also expected that everybody wears appropriate shielding. We already have a rule that every member of the trauma team MUST wear PPEs or they can’t enter the resuscitation room. And I follow it up by announcing my new rule: if anyone leaves the room because they don’t have proper PPEs, they will not be allowed back in the room.
Okay, so you’ve seen “other people” wearing perfectly good lead aprons lifting them up to their chin during portable x-rays in the trauma bay. Is that really necessary, or is it just an urban legend?
After hitting the medical radiation physics books (really light reading, I must say), I’ve finally got an answer. Let’s say that the xray is taken in the “usual fashion”:
Tube is approximately 5 feet above the xray plate
Typical chest settings of 85kVp, 2mAs, 3mm Al filtration
Xray plate is 35x43cm
The calculated exposure to the patient is 52 microGrays. Most of the radiation goes through the patient onto the plate. A very small amount reflects off their bones and the table itself. This is the scatter we worry about.
So let’s assume that the closest person to the patient is 3 feet away. Remember that radiation intensity diminishes as the square of the distance. So if the distance doubles, the intensity decreases to one fourth. By calculating the intensity of the small amount of scatter at 3 feet from the patient, we come up with a whopping 0.2 microGrays. Since most people are even further away, the dose is much, much less for them.
Let’s put it perspective now. The background radiation we are exposed to every day (from cosmic rays, brick buildings, etc) amounts to about 2400 microGrays per year. So 0.2 microGrays from chest x-ray scatter is less than the radiation we are exposed to naturally every hour!
The bottom line: unless you need to work out you shoulders and pecs, you probably don’t bother to lift your lead apron every time the portable x-ray unit beeps. It’s a waste of time and effort! Just stand back and enjoy!
Trauma Team members typically wear a lead gown under their personal protective equipment so they don’t have to run out of the room when x-rays are taken. How often do you see people do this?
Is it really necessary? Or is it just a way to exercise your pecs and biceps? Tomorrow I’ll talk about how much radiation team members are really exposed to so you can decide if this is really necessary.
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