Monday, July 25, 2011

Facebook, Savior of Healthcare

This is just a short little letter I found published in The Lancet.  Apparently, the Taiwan Society of Emergency Medicine has been wrangling with the Department of Health regarding appropriate solutions to the national problem of ED overcrowding.  To make their short story even shorter, apparently, they ended up forming a group on Facebook, and then posting their concerns to the Minister of Health's Facebook page.  This then prompted the Minister of Health to make surprise visits to several EDs, and, in some manner, the Taiwanese feel their social networking has led to a fortuitous response to their public dialogue.

So, slowly but surely, I'm sure all these little blogs will save the world, too.

"Facebook use leads to health-care reform in Taiwan."

Friday, July 22, 2011

CTCA Studies Are Not Externally Valid

This is a multicenter study from Canada that looked at the diagnostic accuracy of computed tomographic coronary angiography using invasive coronary angiography as the gold standard - and they found that it's not bad.  Specifically, they found it was not bad at one of their four centers used in the study, and terrible at three of the four centers used in the study.  In a patient population with a pretest probability of CAD less than 50%, the AUC for CTCA was 0.951 at center 1, and 0.597 at centers 2, 3, and 4 combined.

So, clearly, the most important factor affecting the results of your CTCA is your institution's skill at performing and interpreting the test.  Which, if you take it one step further, means that unless your institution is a CTCA center of excellence like the ones pumping out the CTCA studies, you can't apply their results to your practice.  Specificity stays reasonable, but you lose a lot of sensitivity - and when the CTCA for low-risk rapid rule-out is predicated on the high NPV, you can't afford to lose sensitivity.

"Ontario Multidetector Computed Tomographic Coronary Angiography Study"

Thursday, July 21, 2011

"Time-Out" In The ED Is Nearly Universally Useless

...but still probably a good idea.

Out of 225 ACEP councillors responding to a survey, 5 knew of an instance in the past year where a time-out may have prevented an error.  So, a year's worth of personal patient encounters, plus whatever they heard about in their department, multiplied by 225 - which means we're looking at hundreds of thousands of patient encounters - and there were only a handful of events where a time-out would have helped.

That being said, time-outs have been a Universal Protocol with the National Patient Safety Goals since 2004 because performing the wrong procedure, at the wrong site, on the wrong patient really falls into a category of a "never event".  It does seem like a no-brainer in the ED, where the procedures we're performing on patients are specifically related to the unique presenting event, but errors still occur - and the magnitude of the harm to the patients who are being harmed is probably greater than the consequences of the additive delay in care to other patients from the cumulative time performing the time-out.

"A Survey of the Use of Time-Out Protocols in Emergency Medicine"

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Residency Is Thinly Veiled Healthcare Rationing!

Apparently, we're still $376 million dollars short in funding just to meet the 2003 ACGME work hours regulations, in terms of hiring additional staff, etc.  So, of course, there should be no problem getting the remaining $1.4 billion needed to bring us up to date with the new rules.  And there's still the matter of these authors saying that's still not good enough.

They also say, more stick, less carrot.  For patients!  Think of the children!

Of course, they're probably right.  A lot of EM training is stressful, but it isn't barbaric.  We have enough off-service rotations to realize we're one of the relatively coddled residencies in brute terms of sleep deprivation and time away from the hospital.  My sister just finished her PGY-1 in general surgery by going Q2 into the break before 2nd year.  We're not in compliance, we're not operating at our peak abilities, and we're not exhaustively supervised.  Patients are harmed, no doubt.

But that's the reality of the funding situation and the budgets proscribed by Congress.

Now, if you want go out and inflame a mob, you could invoke this as part of healthcare "rationing", letting undertrained, barely-doctors practice on the sickest patients because we choose to allow a few people to be harmed to save money.

"Implementing the 2009 Institute of Medicine recommendations on resident physician work hours, supervision, and safety."

Monday, July 18, 2011

It's Not An Abscess (Yes It Is)

These studies pretty much all end up saying the same thing - academic faculty can't agree on the presence or absence of differentiating characteristics between abscess and cellulitis.  This particular study is in a pediatric population, and, there's a lot of kappa and absolute agreement to comb through in their tables, but, basically, about 20% of the time two attendings substantially disagreed.  The authors then follow this up by observing that an I&D was performed 75% time, and purulent material was found 92% of the time.

The best conclusion from this might be - if there's some ambiguity, put a scalpel in it.  I'd say this is reasonable - because we've seen a hundred times the child who bounces into the ED on day 3 of cephalexin for cellulitis because what he really had was a MRSA abscess to begin with.

Or, if you have an ultrasound with a high-frequency probe, you might be able to differentiate homogenous hyperemia from fluid collection.

"Interexaminer Agreement in Physical Examination for Children With Suspected Soft Tissue Abscesses"

Friday, July 15, 2011

Video Education For Emergency Departments

I know you can't get published if you say something like "Our intervention is probably not useful and serves only as a cautionary tale for other wayward sailors", but it still bothers me when you stretch the conclusions out by saying that an intervention that is probably not better than the control group "appears promising".

This is a group that looked at the best way to improve parent education in pediatric asthma encounters in the Emergency Department.  They compared a video-based education program to a written handout and didn't make much difference.  They had two groups of parents, those with "low health literacy" and those with "adequate health literacy".  The low literacy group improved a ton regardless of which educational modality was used.  The adequate literacy group barely budged with written and had a little bit more of bump with video - but the relative change in their level of literacy really wasn't anything to write home about and they don't try to offer an explanation for why intelligent people derive no benefit from written education.

But it doesn't stop them from stating it "appears promising" - which, I suppose, means it's probably better than not educating people at all, or potentially educating the illiterate.

"Parental Health Literacy and Asthma Education Delivery During a Visit to a Community-Based Pediatric Emergency Department."

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Diagnose-a-Tron of the Future: FDG-PET

Imagine, if necessary, a case you see every hour in the ED - a child with a fever.  Wave a magic wand in triage, find the source of the fever, and let the doctor pick up the decision-making process advance from there.

This scenario is, of course, totally farfetched - after all, you still need a certain number of HPI and ROS elements before you wave the magic wand to bill at a higher level of service.

But, the principle - this is a fascinating article regarding the workup of "fever of unknown origin" in adults.  These 81 patients had fevers for 3 weeks without a satisfactory explanation, and their cases were retrospectively reviewed following referral to FDG-PET scans.  Essentially, any time this FDG-PET scan localized to an area of high uptake, it provided significant helpful localizing information regarding the underlying disease process.  Examples of diagnoses it identified were infectious endocarditis, tuberculosis, pyogenic spondylitis, graft infections, Takayasu arteritis, and a host of other fascinatingly difficult diseases to identify.

The main diagnostic drawback is that it is mostly only structurally/anatomically specific, not necessarily disease specific, so there is a lot to do in terms of clinical correlation with imaging findings.  And then there is the small issue where it's a nuclear medicine study requiring 5 hours of fasting and an injection of the FDG tracer 1 hour before the study is performed.  But, someday a decade out, the next generations of these devices might be more clinician-friendly....

"FDG-PET for the diagnosis of fever of unknown origin: a Japanese multi-center study."

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

5% of Patients Spend 50% of Our Healthcare Dollars

Per-capita spending doubled from 1997 through 2009 from $4100 to $8100 - with 5% of patients spending $35,800 on average annually to account for 47.5% of healthcare spending.  Overall, the five most expensive conditions are heart disease, cancer, trauma, mental disorders, and pulmonary conditions.

Unsurprisingly, people over 55 made up the majority of the high spending groups.  Unhappily enough, the authors note a "flattening" of the distribution of spending, where younger individuals are responsible for a greater proportion of the spending.  This is not due to more cost-effective care in the elderly, it's a result of increasing disease prevalence in the young, primarily attribute to obesity-related diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, hyperlipidemia.

May you live in interesting times, indeed.

"Understanding U.S. Health Care Spending - NIHCM Foundation Data Brief July 2011"

Monday, July 11, 2011

Send Children With Negative CTs Home

We should all love PECARN.  I love PECARN (Pediatric Emergency Care Applied Research Network) - and not just because I helped set it up as a research assistant peon before medical school.  I love it because it takes multicenter enrollment cohorts to conduct adequately powered research in a population that is rarely affected by serious morbidity and mortality.

Of 13,543 children with GCS 14 or 15 and a normal CT scan, none needed neurosurgical intervention in their follow-up period.  A small handful of these patients had a repeat CT or MRI for some reason, and between 10-25% of the hospitalized patients and 2-10% of the discharged patients had an abnormal result on repeat imaging.  None led to any intervention...which then, of course, begs the question whether it was appropriate to perform a test that did not result in meaningful change in management.  But, there's not enough patients in this group to draw conclusions as to whether repeat scans should or should not be performed.

My only caveat - when you take an over-utilized test in which nearly all patients are certainly fine and will continue to be fine, you actually dilute its external validity to the patient population that really matters.  However, even in a higher-risk patient population in which CTs are used far more conservatively, the clinically relevant answer is still going to be same - the only reasonable practice is still going to be to discharge these patients home.

"Do children with blunt head trauma and normal cranial tomography scan results require hospitalization for neurologic observation?"

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Groomsman Gifts

I bought all my groomsmen whiskey as gifts - at the world's largest liquor store, which is conveniently located 7 blocks from my new home in Houston.

Longrow 14 Year Old Sherry Cask Finish
It's a Campbeltown region Scotch whiskey that's a peatier version of the Springbank that I think is very nice.  Made by the same distillery in a limited run every year.

Suntory Yamazaki 18 Year Old
I posted once upon a time about the 12 year version of this whiskey, which is a Japanese whiskey aged in three types of oak cask.  I really liked the reasonably-priced 12 year, and I hope my best man will enjoy the 18.

Ardbeg Corryvreckan
Named after a famous maelstrom, it's a viscous, peaty Scotch whiskey for my friend who loves all things Islay.

Woodford Reserve Master's Collection
For my bride's brother, who prefers Bourbon whiskey, the seasoned oak finish Master's Collection edition.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Annie + Ryan

Wedding today!

Posting schedule MTuThF for the rest of the month - we'll be in Scandinavia.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Babesiosis - Scourge of the Lower Hudson Valley

Fascinatingly, babesiosis has suddenly become endemic to New York.  From 6 cases per year between 2001-08, it's now up to 100+ cases per year in the region.  Still nothing compared to the 4600 cases of Lyme disease, but nearly rivaling the 213 cases of ehrlichiosis.

Hospitalized patients had fever and hemolytic anemia, and were treated with azithromycin and atovaquone.  5.6% case-fatality rate, although, the parasitemia in these cases was exacerbated by underlying medical conditions.  Won't see this down here in Texas, but the public health surveillance responsibility of Emergency Medicine is always important to remember.

"Babesiosis in Lower Hudson Valley, New York, USA."

Thursday, July 7, 2011

If You Don't Reperfuse STEMI, That's Bad

I'm not sure why this is earthshaking news - other than some good statisticians had access to some good data.  Of course, that's pretty much what research is about - have data, will travel.

This JAMA article looks at door-in-door-out time for STEMI at transferring hospitals - and they suggest an association between between quicker transfer times and unadjusted mortality.  There is still some debate regarding how much time to primary PCI matters, but, if you say this in-and-out time is a surrogate marker for time to primary PCI, you could presumably support the hypothesis of rapid PCI mattering.

There are a few interesting nuggets of information in the article - particularly looking at patients for whom the transfer time was exceptionally prolonged.  Essentially, left bundle and patients with ambiguous or non-obvious STEMI were delayed.  I.e., when the diagnosis is hard, it's hard to make the diagnosis.

As usual, time matters to the individual, but system factors affect many patients.  Mortality for STEMI is improved by faster transport, but you still need to consider the consequences of faster transport.  Reckless abandon towards shoving a semi-stable patient out the door won't always lead to better outcomes, but, then again, I have worked in some of those hospitals....

"Association of Door-In to Door-Out Time With Reperfusion Delays and Outcomes Among Patients Transferred for Primary Percutaneous Coronary Intervention."

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Electronic Health Records & Patient Safety

Shameless self-promotion, regretfully.

From my other life as a clinical informatician working on patient safety and human factors as it relates to electronic medical records - my commentary on how electronic medical records might be applied to the 2011 JCHAO National Patient Safety Goals was published today in JAMA.

"Application of Electronic Health Records to the Joint Commission's 2011 National Patient Safety Goals."

I am also the spotlight author for the current issue, and you can hear my interview at:

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Regression To The Mean

To bias is to be human, and this is a nice review of some of our own intrinsic publication biases.  It's fun to get excited about a new biomarker promising more sensitive or specific identification of disease, promising to streamline our medical decision making.  And then you get stuck with something like d-Dimer or BNP that gives us information people rarely use appropriately.

These authors pulled "highly-cited" articles evaluating biomarker utility, examined the reported findings, and then pooled the results of subsequent, larger follow-up studies and meta-analyses.  83% of their "highly cited" studies had effect sizes larger than the corresponding meta-analyses, and only 7 of the 35 biomarkers they reviewed even had RR estimates greater than 1.37 in the meta-analyses.

Jerry Hoffman likes to say on Emergency Medical Abstracts that if you just sit back and skeptically critique everything - you'll end up being right most of the time.  This article demonstrates just how frequently you'll look smart by not getting overexcited by the most recent fantastic discovery.

"Comparison of Effect Sizes Associated With Biomarkers Reported in Highly Cited Individual Articles and in Subsequent Meta-analyses."

Monday, July 4, 2011

CCTA Only Predicts Revascularizations

This is an interesting systematic review of coronary computer tomography angiography that, I think, shows mostly that the endpoints for cardiology studies need to be re-evaluated.  The conclusion that circulates in the new has been that positive CCTA was highly predictive of coronary events - patients with >1 segment of >50% stenosis on CCTA had an 11.9% annualized rate of coronary "events" when compared to the 1.1% annualized rate of patients without any >50% stenosis.  This generates the 10.74 hazard ratio that has been circulating through the press releases trumpeting the predictive value of CCTA.

Unfortunately, this predictive value is a self-fulfilling prophecy because 62% of their "events" were revascularizations.  If you subtract out the portion that went for revascularization, the remaining all-cause mortality, cardiovascular death, nonfatal MI, UA requiring hospitalization, that's 5% annualized rate.  Still higher than folks without any coronary stenoses at all, but you have to wonder - could we have predicted the population with a 5% cardiovascular morbidity risk without a CCTA?  Does the management decision to perform revascularization confer upon this population a cardiovascular morbidity/mortality benefit?  We are seeing a lot more in the literature showing that medical management is as advantageous as stenting, so, again, I'm not sure what the role of CCTA is - particularly from the Emergency Department.

"Meta-analysis and systematic review of the long-term predictive value of assessment of coronary atherosclerosis by contrast-enhanced coronary computed tomography angiography."

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Ambulance Diversion Kills People? Maybe?

This article got a ton of press - but it tries to take far too simple an approach to far too complicated an issue.  I've done research like this, where you use zip code centroids and calculated distances to nearest hospitals, and it's just one way a blind man describes an elephant.

These authors look retrospectively at all the acute MIs in four California counties, then looked at hospital daily diversion logs for each day from each of those hospitals - and tried to merge them together to prove that if your nearest hospital was on diversion for a lot of the day you had your acute MI, you had worse outcomes.

Their final analysis says, basically, there's a 3-5% difference in 30-day, 90-day, and 1-year mortality if your nearest hospital is on diversion >12 hours in a day vs. if your nearest hospital is on diversion <6 hours per day.  The between 6-12 hour diversion cohort performed identically to the <6 hour per day cohort.  So, I don't know exactly what to make of this.  Their 95% CI almost crosses zero.  Something magical happens at 12 hours that changes your acute MI mortality risk.  So, yes, what the authors are trying to prove is probably true - but this article's data mining and massage can only hypothesize the association, and doesn't prove anything.

"Association Between Ambulance Diversion and Survival Among Patients With Acute Myocardial Infarction."

Friday, July 1, 2011

Algorithmic Approach To Detect Sepsis Fails

I was asked to blog about this little article - since it lies at the intersection of Emergency Medicine and informatics.

So, that feeling you get when you look at a patient who is obviously ill?  Computers don't have that yet.  These folks tried to encapsulate that feeling of "sick" vs. "not sick" into the criteria for severe sepsis, which includes SIRS and hypotension.  The hope was that an algorithmic approach that automatically recognized the vital sign and physiologic criteria for SIRS would trigger reminders to clinicians that would spark them to initiate certain quality care processes sooner.

Out of 33,460 patients processed by the system, 398 triggered the system.  Less than half (46%) of those were true positives.  To follow that up, they tried to evaluate their system for sensitivity and specificity by pulling 1 week's worth of data (1,386 patients) for closer review - and they found the system generated 6 false positives, 7 true positives, and 4 false negatives.  And those numbers speak for themselves.

Looking back at their four quality measures, they all showed a trend towards improvement - unfortunately three of their four quality measures don't even have a theoretical connection to improved outcomes.  Chest x-ray, blood cultures, and measuring a serum lactate are all clinically relevant in certain situations, but they are all diagnostic and management decisions independent of "quality".  Antibiotic administration, however, is part of EGDT for sepsis (for what it's worth), and that trended towards improvement (OR 2.8, CI 0.9 to 8.6).  

But the final killer?  "In approximately half of patients electronically detected, patients had been detected by caregivers earlier".  So, clinicians were receiving automated pages suggesting they might consider an infectious cause to hypotension, probably while already placing central lines for septic shock.

Great concept - but automated systems just don't yet have robust, rapid, high-quality inputs like those a clinician gets just by walking in the room.  But, EM physicians in busy departments overlook things - and a well-designed system might in the future help catch some of those misses.

"Prospective Trial of Real-Time Electronic Surveillance to Expedite Early Care of Severe Sepsis."

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Time To Let ABCD2 Die

The problem - the most difficult clinical situations are the ones where we need a handy decision tool - and the hardest to come up with an effective one.  Syncope rules, PE prediction rules, ACS prediction rules, and now TIA evaluation.

The most important number to come out of this paper is probably 1.8% - the number of patients with a TIA who went on to have a stroke in the next seven days.  That's 38 out of their 2056 patients enrolled.  The next number is 2.7%, which is the 56 patients who had another TIA within 7 days.  So somehow a rule has to magically pick out that tiny proportion of patients who are going to have bad outcomes without excessively testing the remaining supermajority.

Nearly everyone had a CT of the head, nearly everyone had an EKG, very few (15% with an ABCD2 score ≤ 5 and 22.% with a score > 5) had consultation with a neurologist, and even fewer were admitted.  The specificity for stroke within 7 days with a score >2 - the AHA definition of "high risk" - is only 12.5%.  Not only that, but there was significant disagreement between enrolling physicians and the study center regarding the correct ABCD2 score for a patient.

So, in the end, ABCD2 is difficult to apply and only minimally useful.  You're going to miss half the strokes at 7 days if you apply it in a situation where the specificity is >50% - so, sure, a sky-high score tells you they're in trouble, but that still doesn't help you discharge the majority of your TIAs safely for outpatient follow-up.

"Prospective validation of the ABCD2 score for patients in the emergency department with transient ischemic attack."

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Surfactant for Hydrocarbon Aspiration

I've seen surfactant administered for alveolar collapse following near-drowning, but this is a case report regarding surfactant use in severe pneumonitis after low viscosity/low volatility lamp oil.  Less than 1mL of similar aspirated hydrocarbons may result in significant lung injury.  In their specific case they administered 80 mL/m2 of surfactant intratracheally as rescue therapy when their patient continued to become hypoxemic despite recruitment maneuvers on mechanical ventilation.

Definitely something to keep in mind depending on the pathophysiology of the lung injury.

"Early administration of intratracheal surfactant (Calfactant) after hydrocarbon aspiration."

Monday, June 27, 2011

Kids Are Too Fat For The Broselow Tape Now

Now that increasing numbers of children are overweight and obese (up to 36% of 10 to 17 year olds now), 53% of this pediatric sample from West Virginia fell out of the Broselow tape estimate based on height.  Of these, 77.1% of the incorrect weights were greater than that predicted by the Broselow.

It is West Virginia - not the healthiest state in the U.S. - but any hospital that serves a predominantly disadvantaged population may have similar results, and should realize that they may be under dosing their medications.  The authors suggest only a couple alternative strategies, but I think we're probably just best off using clinical judgement as to whether the tape is accurate in each individual clinical situation.

"Is the Broselow tape a reliable indicator for use in all pediatric trauma patients?"

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Mortality Burden of Homelessness

Anyone working in the Emergency Department knows that homelessness and psychiatric disorders go hand-in-hand - and that also goes psychiatric disorders and substance abuse.  This study confirms what we already know about the prevalence of these issues in the homeless population.

The most interesting number I read out of it was that the life expectancy of a homeless male aged 15-24 years was 38.7, and 47.4 for similarly aged homeless females - compared to life expectancies of 60.3 and 64.8 in their general population.  It makes me wonder how much of that life expectancy difference is just the homelessness, or whether it's the psychiatric and substance abuse disorders - I would probably say most of that difference is made up with the substance abuse.

"Psychiatric disorders and mortality among people in homeless shelters in Denmark: a nationwide register-based cohort study."