A Sample Final Damage Control X-ray

Yesterday, I wrote about ways to reduce and hopefully eliminate retained foreign bodies (instruments, sponges) during damage control surgery. Today, I’ll provide a sample x-ray and some tips on how to use this tool most effectively.

Here is an abdominal x-ray obtained just prior to closure of a patient who underwent damage control laparotomy. The OR record and surgeon from the initial operation documented that four sponges had been left in place for hemostasis.

dc-closure

Nothing retained, right?

Wrong! This image is not complete. This patient is larger than the x-ray plate used. The area under the diaphragms, the pelvis, and the entire left side of the peritoneal cavity have not been visualized.

Tips for imaging for damage control closure:

  • Always make sure the patient is on an x-ray OR table. It is so annoying (and potentially a sterility problem) to have to slide the plate under the patient!
  • Help the radiology tech to locate the desired imaging field using folds in the towels covering the body region. For example place the confluence of folds in the center of the towel in the exact place you want the center of the x-ray to be.
  • Remove all radiopaque objects from the x-ray field to reduce confusion when interpreting the image
  • Make sure the entire body cavity has been imaged! This may mean bracketing the area with several shots.
  • Read the image yourself! But if in doubt, or in patients with drains or other odd objects, call the radiologist to help you out.

Related posts:

Source: The Trauma Professionals’s Blog

The Final X-Ray In Damage Control Surgery

Damage control surgery for trauma is over 20 years old, yet we continue to find ways to refine it and make it better. Many lives have been saved over the years, but we’ve also discovered new questions. How soon should the patient go back for definitive closure? What is the optimal closure technique? What if it still won’t close?

One other troublesome issue surfaced as well. We discovered that it is entirely possible to leave things behind. Retained foreign bodies are the bane of any surgeon, and many, many systems are in place to avoid them. However, many of these processes are not possible in emergent trauma surgery. Preop instrument counts cannot be done. Handfuls of uncounted sponges may be packed into the wound.

I was only able to find one paper describing how often things are left behind in damage control surgery (see reference below), and it was uncommon in this single center study (3 cases out of about 2500 patients). However, it can be catastrophic, causing sepsis, physical damage to adjacent organs, and the risk of performing an additional operation in a sick trauma patient.

So what can we do to reduce the risk, hopefully to zero? Here are my  recommendations:

  • For busy centers that do frequent laparotomy or thoracotomy for trauma and have packs open and ready, pre-count all instruments and document it
  • Pre-count a set number of laparotomy pads into the packs
  • Use only items that are radiopaque or have a marker embedded in them. This includes surgical towels, too!
  • Implement a damage control closure x-ray policy. When the patient returns to OR and the surgeons are ready to begin the final closure, obtain an x-ray of the entire area that was operated upon. This must be performed and read before the closure is complete so that any identified retained objects can be removed.

Tomorrow, a sample damage control closure x-ray.

Related post:

Reference: Retained foreign bodies after emergent trauma surgery: incidence after 2526 cavitary explorations. Am Surg 73(10):1031-1034, 2007.

Source: The Trauma Professionals’s Blog

Tips For Surgeons: Abdominal Packing

One of the tenets of trauma surgery, handed down for generations, is that we should pack the abdomen to help manage major abdominal hemorrhage. “All four quadrants were packed” reads the typical operative note. But how exactly do you do that? Sounds easy, right?

sponges

Well, there are nuances not found in the surgery textbooks. Here are some practical tips for the trauma surgeon:

  • Prepare. Have your scrub nurse fluff up about 20 laparotomy pads in advance. The point of packing is two-fold: soak up blood, and stop bleeding. Fluffed up pads work better than the flat, rolled up pads shown above. And you will need them fast, so have a supply ready.
  • Do you really need to pack? Your patient is hypotensive, and you are convinced the abdomen is the source. You run to the OR, open it and… no blood. So don’t pack. It won’t slow down the (lack of) bleeding, but it is possible to cause serosal tears or worse. Just figure out where the bleeding is really coming from.
  • Be careful. Don’t just jam them in there. Carefully place pads over and under the liver. Carefully place a hand on the spleen and push toward the hilum so you can place pads between spleen and body wall. Try not to cause more damage than is already there.
  • Penetrating trauma: Pack where you know (or think) the penetrations are first. Basically, if it’s not bleeding there, don’t pack there.
  • Blunt trauma: Pack the upper quadrants first. This is where the money is, because the liver and spleen are the top culprits. Then pack the lower quadrants to soak up shed blood.
  • Once packed, check for successful control. If bleeding has stopped (or at least decreased significantly) stop and wait for anesthesia to catch up and continue your massive transfusion protocol. If bleeding continues, remove packs from the offending area and try to obtain definitive control. This is now the patient’s only chance, since you have now determined that you can’t stop the bleeding with packing.
  • Remove packs in the proper order. In blunt trauma, remove the lower quadrant packs first. They’re not doing anything and just take up valuable space. In penetrating trauma remove the packs in the area of the injury first.
  • Get an xray to confirm that all packs are out at the end of the case. Self explanatory. It’s easy to lose a few in the heat of the moment. I’ve seen two bundles (10 pads) left over the liver in one case decades ago!

On Monday, I’ll write about the importance of the final x-ray when the abdomen is closed.

Related post:

Source: The Trauma Professionals’s Blog

The Post-CrunchDebriefing

Trauma centers generally design their trauma teams around the type and volume of injured patients they receive. There must be sufficient depth of coverage to handle multiple “hits” at once. But even the best planning can be overwhelmed by the occasional confluence of the planets where multiple, multiple patients arrive during a relatively short period of time (the “crunch”).

As the reserve of available trauma professionals to see new, incoming patients dwindles, it sometimes even becomes necessary to close the center to new patients. Once those who have already arrived have been processed, the trauma center can open again.

This scenario, while hopefully rare, unfortunately introduces a huge opportunity for errors and omissions in care. There is much more clinical activity, lots of patient information to be gathered and processed, and many decisions to be made. How can you reduce the opportunity for these potential problems?

Consider a “post-crunch” debriefing! Once things have quieted down, assemble all team members in one room. Systematically review each patient involved in the “crunch”, going through physical exam, imaging, lab results, and the final plan. It’s helpful to have access to the electronic medical record during this process so everything that is known can be reviewed. Make sure that all clinical questions are answered, and that solid plans are in place and specific people are assigned to implement them.

Once you’ve reviewed all of the incoming, don’t forget your patients already in the hospital. Significant issues may have occurred while you were busy, so quickly review their status as well. Chat with their nurses for updates. Make sure they are doing okay.

Then prepare yourself for the next “crunch”!

Related post:

Source: The Trauma Professionals’s Blog

Next Trauma MedEd Newsletter – Trauma in Pregnancy

Injuries to pregnant women causes a lot of anxiety among trauma professionals. Not only is there one obvious seriously injured patient, but there’s a baby involved that is relatively invisible using the tools available in the trauma resuscitation room.

To help demystify and de-anxiefy (just made it up), the next newsletter will cover trauma in pregnancy in detail. Topics will include:

  • Tips and tricks
  • Predicting outcome
  • Monitoring
  • Safe imaging
  • Perimortem C-section
  • And more!

If you haven’t already, subscribe to my Trauma MedEd newsletter so you can get this edition as soon as it’s released. Otherwise, it will be released here on the blog about 2 weeks later.

Click here to subscribe and download back issues!

Source: The Trauma Professionals’s Blog

The Seventh Law of Trauma

Your patient is at their healthiest as they roll in through the emergency department door

Yes, major trauma patients are sick, but they are going to get sicker over the next few hours to days. No matter how bad they look now, they will tolerate more at the time you first see them than they will tomorrow.

Too often, we look at them and delay because “they are too sick to operate.” This is usually not the case.

Bottom line: Move quickly, get surgical clearances done promptly, and perform all interventions (especially major surgery) early before your trauma patient gets really sick!

Other Laws of Trauma:

Source: The Trauma Professionals’s Blog

Cognitive Bias – Don’t You Hate It When They Do That?

cognitive_bias

Source: http://chainsawsuit.com/comic/2014/09/16/on-research/

I sat in on a committee meeting once where the management of a particular clinical problem was being vigorously discussed. One of the participants pulled out his smartphone, did a quick search, and said, “Aha! This article shows that my opinion is correct!”

This approach is wrong on so many levels, it’s almost laughable. But it illustrates a real weakness that all human beings have: susceptibility to cognitive bias. 

Scientists have identified somewhere between 150 and 200 different types of cognitive bias, and trying to sort them out will literally make your head spin. For a quick and enlightening read, I recommend reading the article below. It sifts through the mess and lumps them into four understandable categories.

Bottom line: We are all capable of warping what we read, hear, and see to fit our own vortex of pre-existing beliefs. It’s very important to recognize the possibility of bias when you are seeking information so that you can do everything to minimize its impact. If you can’t or won’t do that, then you’ll end up being that know-it-all guy with the smartphone.

Related post:

Source: The Trauma Professionals’s Blog

Trauma Morning Report – A Best Practice?

Hospital medicine in general, and inpatient trauma care specifically, is now characterized by a series of handoffs. These occur between physicians, trainees, nurses, and a host of other trauma professionals. Many trauma centers have implemented a “morning report” type of handoff, which formalizes part of the process and frequently adds a teaching component.

The group at the University of Arkansas studied the impact of implementing a morning report process on length of stay and care planning. Prior to the study, residents handed off care post-call to other residents without attending surgeon involvement. The morning report process added the presence of the post-call surgeon, and the trauma and emergency general surgery attendings coming on duty. Advanced practice nurses collected information on care plan changes.

Here are the factoids:

  • Problem: There is mention of a survey with 79% response rate detailing 219 trauma admissions during the 90 day study period. This is not explained anywhere else in the abstract, so it is not clear if the data presented represents all admissions.
  • 69% of patients were admitted to a ward bed, and 31% to ICU
  • Change to the care plan occurred during morning report in 20% of patients
  • The most common care plan changes were: addition of a procedure in 45%, medication change in 34% (typically pain management)
  • Mean hospital length of stay decreased from 10 to 6 days (!)

Bottom line: This small, prospective study quantifies a few of the benefits of a formal “morning report” process. The fact that just a little bit of trauma attending oversight decreased length of stay by a whopping 4 days suggests that the residents really needed the increased supervision. Discharge planning is a multidisciplinary activity, and should be a major part of the rounding routine as well.

Formalizing the handoff process is always a good thing. Yes, it takes time and planning, but as this and other studies have shown, it is well worth the effort!

Related posts:

Reference: Morning report decreases length of stay in trauma patients by changing care plans in 20% of patients. AAST 2016, Poster 124.

Source: The Trauma Professionals’s Blog

ED Use of CT – Everyone Does It Differently

There is tremendous variability in ordering imaging in trauma patients. To some degree, this is due to the dearth of standards pertaining to radiographic imaging, at least in trauma. And when standards do exist, trauma professionals are not very good at adhering to them. We’d rather do it our way. Or the way we were trained to do it.

The group at Jamaica Hospital in Queens, NY quantified some of those differences, studying ordering patterns of trauma surgeons (TS), emergency physicians (EP), and surgery chief residents (CR). Unfortunately, they then tried to draw some interesting conclusions, which I’ll discuss at the end.

They reviewed all blunt trauma activations over a 6 month period at their urban trauma center. At the end of each trauma activation, each of the three physician groups wrote imaging orders, but only the trauma surgeons’ were submitted. Missed injuries were defined as any that would not have been found based on each provider group’s orders. Extremity injuries, and those found on physical exam or plain imaging were excluded.

Here are the factoids:

  • The authors do not state how many patients they saw in this period, but by extrapolation it appears to be about 250
  • Trauma surgeons ordered significantly more studies (1,012) than the EPs (882) or CRs (884)
  • This resulted in essentially a “pan-scan” in 78%, 64%, and 69%, respectively
  • Radiation exposure was said to be the same for all groups (18 vs 13 vs 15 mSv) [I’m having a hard time buying this]
  • But cost was higher in the trauma surgeon group ($344 vs $267 vs $292) [Huh? Is this only the electric bill for the CT scanner? Very low, IMHO]
  • And the trauma surgeons had a missed injury rate of only 1%, vs 11% for EPs and 7% for CRs [Wow!]

Bottom line: Sorry, I just can’t believe these results. There are a lot of things left unsaid in this poster. What were all these missed injuries? What magical CT scan that only the trauma surgeons ordered actually picked them up? And probably most importantly, were they clinically significant? A small hematoma somewhere doesn’t make a difference (see the “tree falls in a forest” post below).

It looks to me like the authors wanted to justify their use of pan-scan, and push their emergency physicians to follow suit. Unfortunately, this is a poster presentation, meaning that there will be limited opportunity to question the authors about the specifics.

The debate regarding pan-scan vs selective imaging is an active one. The evidence is definitely not in yet. While we sort it out, the best path is to develop a reasonable imaging practice guideline based on the literature, where available. Some areas such as head and cervical spine CT have been worked out fairly well. Then fill in the blanks and encourage all trauma professionals in your hospital to follow them. There is great value in adhering to good guidelines, even when there are blanks in our knowledge.

Related posts:

Reference: Variability in computed tomography imaging of trauma patients among emergency department physicians and trauma surgeons with respect to missed injuries, radiation exposure and cost. AAST 2016, Poster #75.

Source: The Trauma Professionals’s Blog

Managing Mild TBI Without A Neurosurgeon

TBI is a very common injury, and neurosurgeons are relatively rare resources for trauma centers. That mismatch can create significant problems for trauma programs. Reflexively, we consult neurosurgeons for a wide variety of neurotrauma, ranging from the very severe to the extremely mild.

sah

Can we intelligently and selectively utilize the skills of our neurosurgeons, and not jeopardize patient safety? Surgeons at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield MA reviewed their own experience managing mild TBI.

They defined a mild TBI as one with patient GCS of 13-15. However, their study included only patients with “GCS>14”, which I presume means all patients with GCS=15 (unless this is a typo). They allowed patients with normal GCS and intoxication, epidural (EDH) or subdural hematoma (SDH)<4mm, small subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH), and non-displaced skull fracture (Fx). Any patient taking any type of anticoagulant or anti-platelet drug was excluded. They looked at need for neurosurgical consultation or intervention, readmission, and 30 day mortality.

This prospective study spanned 13 months. This lower volume center admitted 1341 patients, of which 77 were included in the study. Average age was 55, and average ISS was 16. A total of 97% presented for a followup visit (!).

Here are the factoids:

  • 47% had SAH, 43% SDH, 16% intraparenchymal hemorrhage (not mentioned in inclusion criteria), 14% Fx, and no EDH
  • Only one patient required neurosurgery consult, and none required intervention
  • There were no mortalities
  • Most (62%) were admitted to a ward bed, and the average length of stay for all patients was 3 days
  • Cost savings was estimated at about $16,000

Bottom line: Yes there is no magic in getting a neurosurgical consult for most mild TBI. The study is small, but telling. A carefully crafted practice guideline can dramatically decrease the (over)use of our neurosurgeons, saving both time and money.

In reviewing their guideline, I would recommend shaving even one more point off the GCS (>14), but stipulating that any central subarachnoid hemorrhage require consultation because of the possibility of an aneurysm being the culprit.

Check out the guideline in use at my hospital below. Also, look at the first related post, which is similar in idea to this one, but you can see the difference in management by surgeons vs neurosurgeons.

Related posts:

Reference: Mild traumatic brain injuries can be safely managed without neurosurgical consultation: the end of a neurosurgical “nonsult”? AAST 2016, Poster 51.

Source: The Trauma Professionals’s Blog

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