Toastmasters for Trauma Patients

Almost everybody in healthcare has to occasionally deliver verbal reports to their colleagues or counterparts, and almost everybody starts out bad at it. It’s a weird skill and one that takes practice, even though all you’re doing is describing what the deal is with a certain sick person.

Here’s a little walk-through discussing one important aspect of a good verbal report — a clear, coherent structure of tone, cadence, and body language that gives your words “shape.” You shouldn’t sound like a robot, because robots are hard to understand. Be Martin Luther King Jr; that’s a man who knew how to make himself heard.

We’ll be practicing with the hand-off report Sam gave to University Hospital on the Mystic St and Beverly Rd call.

Some Things to Say (part 3)

Thesaurus

Becoming smarter is always a smart idea. But after they boot you out of EMT class, not only do you still need to learn a few textbooks-worth of medicine before you’re a semi-competent provider, you also need to acquire a more mundane body of knowledge: how to sound like you’re competent.

You’ll be talking to other prehospital personnel, to nurses, to doctors, and to CNAs and LPNs; you’ll be writing out copious documentation; and of course you’ll be asking questions of patients themselves. And it’s one thing to know what you’re talking about, but it’s quite another to express it without sounding like a knob. Unfortunately, some things are just hard to say concisely and cleverly. More importantly, for some things there’s simply one right way to say it, and anything else isn’t really accurate. The world of medicine has come up with conventional phrases to describe most of these, but you need to learn them before you can use ‘em. It’s one of those subtle skills you develop as your experience grows.

Of course, providing shortcuts to experience is why we’re here. So here are a few terms that will make you sound a little more intelligent the next time you’re giving a report or writing a narrative.

 

Don’t say…

Pooping

Say…

Moving his bowels, having a bowel movement

“Have you been moving your bowels lately, Mr. McGillicuddy?”

 

Don’t say…

Peeing

Say…

Urinating, making urine

“She just started dialysis recently, but she does still make a small amount of urine.”

 

Don’t say…

Normal

Say…

Unremarkable

“Her vitals and physical exam are unremarkable.”

 

Don’t say…

It’s totally there, dude

Say…

Present, apparent, visible, palpable, appreciable

“A Foley catheter is present, and a 2cm hematoma is visible on the dorsum of the left hand. No other trauma is apparent. Breath sounds are appreciable bilaterally.”

 

Don’t say…

… and there’s tons of it.

Say…

Profound

“She reports profound vertigo elicited by any movement of the head.”

 

Don’t say…

CSM is totally good bro

Say…

Peripheral circulation and neuro function intact

“Does he have any neuro deficits?”

 

Don’t say…

Basically he seems okay

Say…

Stable, intact, atraumatic, without abnormality

“He appears grossly atraumatic, with no apparent injury to the head, and the neck and back are stable and non-tender.”

 

Don’t say…

You can hear it from Cincinatti

Say…

Audible from the bedside

“Coarse, biphasic crackles are audible from the bedside, and present in all fields upon auscultation.”

 

Don’t say…

We didn’t look too hard

Say…

Readily, grossly, obviously, generally, frankly

“He appears generally well, without obvious injury or gross neuro deficit. Radial pulses are not readily obtainable. No frank bleeding from the site.”

 

Don’t say…

Chow situation

Say…

Oral intake

“He has had minimal oral intake over the past three days”

 

Don’t say…

Pushes his feet

Say…

Plantarflex

“Equal strength bilaterally in grip and plantarflexion.”

 

Don’t say…

Shows

Say…

Demonstrates

“He demonstrates no speech slurring or pronator drift, but there is a mild left-sided facial droop at rest.”

 

Don’t say…

Eventually opened his eyes after we beat the shit out of him

Say…

Difficult to rouse

“He is found in bed, eyes closed and semi-Fowler’s. He rouses with difficulty to verbal stimulus, but repeatedly lapses back to sleep without ongoing stimulation.”

 

Don’t say…

AOx4

Say…

Describe it!

“He presents as alert, in no apparent distress, generally oriented with some confusion; he is conversational and aware of his circumstances, but is unsure of the date and demonstrates poor short-term recall.”

 

Don’t say…

Walks like a drunk

Say…

Ataxic

“He demonstrates slurred speech, generalized ataxia, and a sweet odor is detectable in his breath.”

 

Don’t say…

Pissed himself and shit everywhere

Say…

Voided, incontinent of bowel or bladder

“He’s incontinent of both bowel and bladder, and he did void his bladder en route.”

 

Don’t say…

“ehn rowt”

Say…

“on root”

En route is from the French, and it’s pronounced ‘on root.’ Saying ‘ehn rowt’ is some weird faux-accented hyper-compensation that the public safety world has all started doing, but that doesn’t make it right.”

 

Don’t say…

Agrees only after we asked about it

Say…

Endorses

“He denies pain of any kind, but does endorse mild tightness and discomfort in the left shoulder.”

 

Don’t say…

Sniffles and other cold-like symptoms

Say…

Coryzal symptoms

“He notes a headache and coryzal symptoms for the past two days, and nausea beginning today.”

 

Don’t say…

General systemic symptoms preceeding a seizure, syncope, etc

Say…

Prodrome

“He denies prodromal symptoms preceeding the fall, and bystanders observed no apparent loss of consciousness.”

 

Don’t say…

Without torture

Say…

Easily, freely

“He ambulates easily, and freely rotates his head past 45 degrees without pain.”

 

Well, that’s what I’ve got. Toss ‘em into your toolbox and use whatever works for you. Anybody else have some useful words to share?

More things to say in part 2

The 10 Easiest Ways to Violate HIPAA

  1. Leave paperwork face-up on the dashboard or front seat.
  2. Leave your computer unsecured wherever the hell you please.
  3. Tweet a picture of the badass MVA you just did, with a victim obviously identifiable to anybody who reads the news (“A car struck a tree on Route 421 today, driver Jim Smith was rushed to the hospital…”).
  4. Tell everybody about the celebrity you just transported.
  5. Tell everybody about the coworker you just transported.
  6. Crack jokes and make comments about the patient you just dropped off while in the elevator, or in the public ambulance bay outside — usually while the patient’s family is eavesdropping.
  7. Post a Facebook status about the crazy shooting you ran, sharing intimate details about the patient who was probably the only person shot in your town that day.
  8. Leave paperwork in the truck at end-of-shift.
  9. Let a facesheet (demographics page) escape into the wind as you fruitlessly chase it down the street.
  10. Answering curious questions about the patient’s status or destination from the random person on scene, I’m not sure who that is, probably just the nosy guy who lives downstairs.

Podcast: EMS to ED Interface

Streamlining a patient’s entry to the healthcare continuum is one of our main roles in EMS, and the key step in most cases is when we transfer care at the emergency department. This isn’t rocket science, but you can do it well or less well, and frankly I think it’s tough to do right unless you can see the whole picture. We never really know in what ways we’re setting up people effectively for their ED care and in what ways we’re part of the problem, unless perhaps we work on both sides.

So I asked for a little help here. I sat down virtually with Dr. Brooks Walsh, ED attending extraordinaire — author of Mill Hill Ave Command and Doc Cottle’s Desk – and with Jeff, an ED nurse from my area. We discussed how to work and play together better, including topics like handoff reports, useful histories, and typical ED courses of care.

Click here to listen or download (1:15, MP3 format)

A few of the bullet-worthy points:

  • Jeff’s hospital saves time in all trauma, stroke, and STEMI activations by assigning patients an alias immediately upon notification by EMS. That way registration isn’t lurking around while the team is trying to treat the patient.
  • Cath lab activations from the field are still often about trust — whether staff knows the individual provider or the particular service calling. Rightly or wrongly, there’s also a stricter de facto standard for activation during off hours when nobody wants to get out of bed.
  • For stroke, neurology may be in the room when you arrive, but more often, especially in smaller hospitals, they’re available by page or teleconference.
  • When bringing in the stroke, try and ensure that family who can testify to time-of-onset/time-last-seen-normal, as well as consent to treatment on the patient’s behalf, are present — ideally transported with you — not unavailable in a taxi somewhere.
  • When you walk in the room, the typical team is a doctor, a nurse, a tech, then any extras — residents or other students, surgery, pediatrics, whomever. And registration is the dude with the clipboard or computer, of course.
  • When reporting to the doc, focus on: first, anything that needs to happen immediately; second, information he can’t get elsewhere (i.e. not patient medical history unless it’s not available in the records, laundry list of negatives, etc.), such as how you found the patient, general context, changes en route, etc.
  • Written PCRs are usually not read due to difficulty obtaining them and general unfriendliness (hard to find info, obscure writing), but sometimes there’s useful stuff in there, particularly in the narrative itself.
  • Baseline patient info from EMS is great if we know the patient well (frequent fliers); baseline info from bystanders, staff, family etc. is okay but less reliable.
  • Get patients to their usual facility if at all possible, especially those with complex histories, and especially anyone with recent surgical history — otherwise they’ll just get transferred later.
  • “Take me to x, my doctor is there” (meaning PCP or specialist) — less important, but can be nice if there are chronic issues and they’d like to maintain the existing treatment plan.
  • Disagreements over patient triage or treatment: find the attending or perhaps resource nurse and voice your concern. In the long-term: raise issues with the hospital’s EMS liaison (either directly or through your internal chain of command).

Live from Prospect St: The Big Crunch (conclusion)

Continued from part 1 and part 2

 

In the end, all three patients receive spinal immobilization. You transport both pediatric patients to Bullitt Medical Center; the P12 assumes care of the mother and transports her to the same destination. No significant injuries are found upon follow-up assessments; however, when the P12 checks Samantha’s blood glucose, they find it to be 32 mg/dL. They administer D50, normalizing her sugar, which improves her level of consciousness; however, she remains confused and becomes somewhat combative. She does endorse substantial alcohol ingestion, is somewhat unclear on drug use, and continues to deny a history of diabetes.

After transferring care, both crews fill out state-mandated documentation to report child abuse, with regard to the mother driving two young children while under the influence and without appropriate car seats or other restraints. You write your documentation with extra caution, aware that it may eventually be used in a court of law.

 

Discussion

This was a case where no patient was highly acute, but operational issues required some attention and medical confounders obscured the assessment.

 

General considerations for MVAs

With any significant MVA (or MVC for “motor vehicle collision,” since the DoT takes the position that nothing is truly accidental), there are several factors we should consider:

  • Scene safety. Wherever the scene may be, it’s generally at or near a roadway, and it’s a location that’s already proven itself accident-prone. In this case, we were situated in a truck yard somewhat off the main road. If it were a busier area, and we were first to arrive, we would want to park the ambulance to shield the scene from traffic, and request fire apparatus (for more blocking) and police (for traffic control). We should also consider the presence of chemicals or other hazardous material in an industrial area, which was not a problem here.
  • Extrication. The time to request additional resources is early. Heavy extrication, where vehicle frames need to be bent or cut, is usually performed by fire department ladder trucks or dedicated rescue apparatus; in this case, the driver’s door was dented and needed to be popped open (technically “confinement” rather than “entrapment”), and it was handled prior to our arrival.
  • Cause. Some accidents happen for obvious reasons, such as inattention. Sometimes they’re due to conditions, such as weather or visibility, which is a good clue that such conditions probably persist and might endanger you as well; protect the scene and be cautious during extrication and transport. Sometimes, accidents have a medical cause, which was the case here.
  • Damage. We are clinicians, not mechanics, but vehicle damage can provide clues to injury type and severity. Modern vehicles often develop horrific-looking body damage while yielding minor personal injury; automotive safety science has become quite advanced, and a large part of a car’s protection comes from intentionally crumpling to absorb impact. If occupants are restrained, the vehicle can easily eat up a large amount of shock without anyone suffering significant harm. In this case, we saw a front-left impact at seemingly moderate speed, so we anticipate a head-on type injury pattern with some lateral energy. Damage to the driver’s-side lower dashboard area, plus minor knee injury, suggested a “down and under” rather than “up and over” direction of movement, which is typical for a restrained driver; the windshield was also missing any apparent point-of-impact, which supports this. With the seatbelt and airbag, we were not too suspicious of frontal head injury, but we did look for evidence of lateral head impact against the window or side-wall; we found no obvious head trauma or internal vehicle damage. There was likewise no signs of internal impact from the children in the rear, although we remain suspicious of pelvic or abdominal trauma, since they were wearing lap belts without any torso restraints.
  • Number of patients. Life was made easier by the truck driver, who was obviously unharmed and decided to elope from the scene prior to our arrival. Samantha was making vague reference to her brother, but it seemed that he was coming to meet her and was not an occupant. It is somewhat bad form to forget about people, so it’s good to try and confirm these things, and the first-in responders (the fire department in this case) can help.

 

Assessment

Just like in most cases, the majority of essential information was communicated in the first few seconds on scene.

Our eyeball exam from twenty feet was enough for an initial assessment on the kids. The Pediatric Assessment Triangle is a model for identifying pediatric life threats that focuses on obvious, big-payoff findings rather than details (like specific vital signs) which can be tough to measure. The three components are:

  • General appearance. This is overall impression and rough neurological status. Are they conscious? If so, sluggish, alert, groggy, engaged with their surroundings, tracking with their eyes? Is there any muscle tone or are they limp? Are they crying? If so, are they consolable? Do they look sick or well?
  • Work of breathing. This is respiratory assessment. Is the child struggling to breathe? Are they tripoding or assuming a sniffing position to maintain an airway? Is there accessory muscle use, pursed-lip breathing, nasal flaring, chest retractions? Are grossly adventitious breath sounds audible (i.e. wheezing, stridor, grunting, snoring)?
  • Circulation. This is general circulatory status. Is skin pink and warm? Is there clear cyanosis, pallor, mottling? Obvious bleeding?

From the first moments on scene, we were able to observe that the pediatric patients were: conscious, crying loudly (therefore with a patent airway and adequate breathing), generally unhappy but not acutely distressed, without obvious bleeding or other trauma, and with normal skin signs. That’s plenty for the initial triage — a more full assessment will come later, but it’s unlikely that we’ll uncover any true life threats.

How about mom? We initially notice no obvious issues except for an altered mental status, which may be masking other problems (such as pain or neurological deficits). We also don’t know the cause of the AMS. Is there alcohol involved? Probably: she directly endorsed this. Drugs? Perhaps: vehemently denying drug use is not uncommon in drug users, and there were purpura consistent with needle “track marks” on her arm. But even if present, neither of those precludes a concomitant traumatic head injury; drunk and high people can bump their head too. And we were reminded of the first rule of EMS: everybody is diabetic. Although the circumstances didn’t necessarily suggest hypoglycemia as the most likely cause, it fit the presentation, and all drunk patients are somewhat at risk for this complication. If she’d stayed in our care, glucometry would have been wise during transport.

Is spinal immobilization needed? Local protocol comes into play. The children are probably low risk. The mechanism as a whole is potentially risky, due to the possibility of side-on energy transfer and head injury, but generally is not too alarming and the assessment findings are fairly reassuring. In the case of the mother, she is the classic example of a poor reporter who cannot reliably describe neck or back pain or participate in a neurological exam; most selective immobilization protocols (such as NEXUS or the Canadian C-spine rule) would advise immobilization in such cases. In this instance, due to equipment shortcomings, one child was immobilized via KED and the other two patients immobilized to long boards, with towel rolls used liberally. The children were liberated almost immediately after arrival at the ED, after a clinical exam by the pediatric emergency physician. The mother began fighting her board after she was roused with D50.

 

Transport and documentation

This case highlighted the need for intelligent patient assessment to guide transport destinations. Although low-acuity pediatric patients can sometimes be assessed in an adult ED, it depends on the receiving physician’s level of comfort, so in many cases they’ll prefer to transfer them to a specialty center (and any time a patient has to be transferred from where we brought them, we’ve failed them somewhat).

In a similar vein, acute patients needing surgical intervention should always be delivered to trauma centers. Does mom need a trauma center? Since we’re unable to rule out a traumatic cause for her mental status, it’s probably wise, although perhaps not essential. Do the kids need a pediatric trauma center? Probably not; they are, by all appearances, doing fine. Finally, although we could transport parent and kids to different hospitals, it would be distressing to everyone and create logistical headaches (involving consent, billing, and other concerns), so Bullitt Medical Center (an adult trauma center as well as a pediatric ED, although not a pediatric trauma center) is a sensible destination. (Since it’s a larger hospital, it’s also more capable of sustaining the “hit” of receiving three patients simultaneously than a small community ED.) Since the mother is a more challenging patient, it makes sense for the paramedics to take her while our BLS unit acts as a bus for the kids.

As for documentation, depending on state law we may be required to report all instances of child abuse to protective agencies. (In this particular region, reporting is mandated for any child or elder abuse.) If so, local procedures should be followed; although the hospital will most likely perform such reporting as well, in many states this does not absolve EMS of its own responsibilities.

When documenting the call, be aware that charges may be pursued against the mother for neglect, driving under the influence, or other offenses. These may hinge upon your documented findings, such as altered mental status, lack of appropriate child restraints, or statements about substance use. Depending on local laws for mandated reporters, you may be required to report these findings directly to police, or you may actually be prohibited from doing so by HIPAA laws; in either case, however, they should be noted in your report.