Jan 26, 2010

Study questions the standard of C-Collars

Baylor study doubts neck brace standard
In some cases, device might hurt accident victims



   Applying a brace to the neck of a trauma patient, standard procedure for many decades, can worsen the injury and lead to severe paralysis or death, according to a new study by Houston researchers.

   Baylor College of Medicine doctors used cadavers to confirm that so-called cervical collars can be counterproductive, a finding that could upturn the way emergency medical personnel and doctors act to stabilize and protect the upper spine in potentially fatal neck injuries, such as those that commonly occur in bad automobile accidents.

   "This study is a proof of concept that in cases of severely unstable neck injuries, cervical collars are not only not helpful, but harmful in many situations," said Dr. Peleg Ben-Galim, a professor of orthopedic surgery and the study's lead author. "More research needs to be done, but it might be that we can prevent some of the deaths and quadriplegia that occur in these injuries."

   The study appeared this week in the Journal of Trauma.

   Dr. David Persse, medical director of Houston's Emergency Management Services, called the study "compelling" and "concerning" and said it will come up for discussion at the annual meeting of the nation's 30 largest EMS departments in Dallas next month. But he also said he doesn't want to overreact.

   "We need to look at this thoughtfully before we change the standard of care," said Persse. "It concerned a particular kind of injury. It may apply to other injuries as well, but we don't know that yet."

   But Persse added that he understands the need to act quickly, that "it's not like a lot of areas where there's not as serious downside to waiting for the next study."

Car-crash victims

   Ben-Galim said cervical spine injuries are found in the autopsies of up to 94 percent of people who die in car crashes, which claim about 44,000 U.S. lives annually. There are about 11,000 people annually who survive spinal cord injuries.

   There is no obvious alternative to cervical collars, though hospitals often place sandbags under the back of the patient's head and, less commonly, some EMS teams at the scene of the crash wedge the head of the patient between foam bolsters on the backboard.

   The injuries in question involve the area where the brain connects to the spinal cord. Doctors treating such injuries work to stabilize the ligaments, muscle and bone to prevent secondary injury and to protect the brain stem and cord.
   Baylor researchers undertook the study after a case in which a broken jaw precluded the use of a cervical collar on the survivor of a car wreck brought to Ben Taub. When the doctors started to put a collar on the patient, fluoroscopy showed two of the patient's vertebrae separate, causing doctors to immediately remove the collar. The treated patient ultimately walked out of the hospital on his own.

   Ben-Galim noted that there are other such case histories in medical literature.

   To study the phenomenon, Baylor researchers made an incision in cadaver neck ligaments based on patient X-rays, then simulated clinical scenarios by applying cervical collars and putting the bodies in ambulances and driving a distance.

   In all of the cadavers, imaging technologies found that the collar increased the rupture.

   In effect, the collars pushed the head away from the shoulders, Ben-Galim said.

   He said the rupture stretching occurs because of both the application of the collars and their continued use.

   One national expert called the study interesting but said he wasn't sure it would one day change the standard of care.

   "There are certain cases, like the ones in this study, that can be dangerous, but they're rare -- most people who suffer high neck injuries die immediately," said Dr. Tom Scaletta, the past president of the American Academy of Emergency Medicine. "I think the study's importance will be to raise awareness about the special care that must be taken -- preserving patients' normal head position, making sure they're not having difficulty breathing."

Anecdotal cases

   Dr. Walter Lowe, director of the Memorial Hermann Sports Medicine Institute and team physician for the Houston Texans football team, said the study wouldn't change the care of injured football players removed from the field in collars and on stretchers because those injuries tend to involve lower areas of the spine.

   Ben-Galim said that since the study was undertaken, Ben Taub doctors have saved patients with severe neck injuries by loosening or removing cervical collars early and rushing them to the operating room, but he acknowledged such cases are anecdotal.

   He said the research team looked at 400 articles and found no scientific evidence that cervical collars can stabilize severely unstabilized spine injuries.

Original source: http://www.seattlepi.com/health/414631_Neck25.html

Jan 21, 2010

Pain Scale - "Zero to Ten"...!

In this business of ER/EMS/Healthcare, we have been tasked with an attempt to objectify a patient's "pain".  Apparently many bean-counters and doctoral candidates have done research on how to do this, and as such the "Zero to Ten" scale was born.

Now most of you reading this are undoubtedly of the ER/EMS genre' and are all too familiar with this "scale".  Our instructors, mentors, preceptors, managers, educators (ad nauseum); pound it into us to use this scale.  It's pretty easy for them to say that because on paper it looks good, but as most of you, my readers know, it is haphazard at best to apply effectively...  Oh, wait, let me also throw in what they told us in feel-good-nursing-school, "pain is whatever your patient says it is".   So, we are asked to unquestioningly document "whatever" the patient says about their pain.

By itself, this is not too bad, however, it is when the patient is savvy to this whole pain scale thing that they begin to manipulate it to suit their own needs and wants.  We are left to unquestioningly just "write it down" with no practical attempt to help the patient understand what we are trying to measure.

So we write what the patient says, then we spend the next 5-10 minutes charting all those "little things" that we observe about the patient's behaviors - those things that seem to make the patient's self-assessment inconsistent at best....

"patient talking/texting/IM'ing on cell phone..."
"patient laughing, joking with friends..."
"patient walks to room with steady, coordinated gait..."
"patient smiling..."
"patient resting (sleeping) on stretcher spooning with boyfriend...!"
...and on and on

Sometimes we go further to note more objective findings such as the vital signs:
-reported pain score "10"
-Pulse rate: 56....???

However, in an attempt to further quantify this pain scale, and maybe to help the patient understand what we're looking for, I came across this table (see below) which strives to put some defining characteristics to the different pain levels....

Comparative Pain Scale

No pain. Feeling perfectly normal.
Does not interfere with most activities. Able to adapt to pain psychologically and with medication or devices such as cushions.
Very Mild

Very light barely noticable pain, like a mosquito bite or a poison ivy itch.

Minor pain, like lightly pinching the fold of skin between the thumb and first finger with the other hand, using the fingernails.

Very noticable pain, like an accidental cut, a blow to the nose causing a bloody nose, or a doctor giving you an injection.

Interferes with many activities. Requires lifestyle changes but patient remains independent. Unable to adapt to pain.

Strong, deep pain, like an average toothache, the initial pain from a bee sting, or minor trauma to part of the body, such as stubbing your toe real hard

Strong, deep, piercing pain, such as a sprained ankle when you stand on it wrong, or mild back pain. Not only do you notice the pain all the time, you are now so preoccupied with managing it that you normal lifestyle is curtailed.

Strong, deep, piercing pain so strong it seems to partially dominate your senses, causing you to think somewhat unclearly. Comparable to a bad non-migriane headache combined with several bee stings, or a bad back pain.
Unable to engage in normal activities. Patient is disabled and unable to function independently.

Same as 6 except the pain completely dominates your senses, causing you to think unclearly about half the time. Comparable to an average migraine headache.

Pain so intense you can no longer think clearly at all.. Comparable to childbirth or a real bad migraine headache.

Pain so intense you cannot tolerate it and demand pain killers or surgery, no matter what the side effects or risk. Comparable to throat cancer.

Pain so intense you will go unconscious shortly. Most people have never experienced this level of pain. Those who have suffered a severe accident, such as a crushed hand, and lost consciousness as a result of the pain and not blood loss, have experienced level 10.

So, now, here's your clinical story to illustrate the use of this scale...

Dr: "Between zero, being no pain and 10 being the worst you can imagine, how would you rate your pain?"
Pt: (calmly)..."a 10"....
Dr: "Okay, at 10 would be you getting hit in the face with a 15 pound sledgehammer, and unconscious from the pain, not the head injury.  Most people have never and will never experience this pain level ~ and if they do, will undoubtedly be unconscious..."
Pt: (again calmly)..."okay, 9-and-a-half..."