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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Volume 11, Issue 2, 2010

Volume 11 Issue 2 2010


Chart Smart: A Need for Documentation and Billing Education Among Emergency Medicine Residents?

Objective: The healthcare chart is becoming ever more complex, serving clinicians, patients, third party payers, regulators, and even medicolegal parties. The purpose of this study was to identify our emergency medicine (EM) resident and attending physicians’ current knowledge and attitudes about billing and documentation practices. We hypothesized that resident and attending physicians would identify billing and documentation as an area in which residents need further education.

Methods: We gave a 15-question Likert survey to resident and attending physicians regarding charting practices, knowledge of billing and documentation, and opinions regarding need for further education.

Results: We achieved a 100% response rate, with 47% (16/34) of resident physicians disagreeing or strongly disagreeing that they have adequate training in billing and documentation, while 91% (31/34) of residents and 95% (21/22) of attending physicians identified this skill as important to a resident’s future practice. Eighty-two percent (28/34) of resident physicians and 100% of attending physicians recommended further education for residents.

Conclusion: Residents in this academic EM department identified a need for further education in billing and documentation practices. [West J Emerg Med. 2010;11(2): 116-119.]

The Chief Resident Role in Emergency Medicine Residency Programs

Study Objectives: Although other specialties have examined the role of the chief resident (CR), the role and training of the emergency medicine (EM) CR has largely been undefined.

Methods: A survey was mailed to all EM CRs and their respective program directors (PD) in 124 EM residency programs. The survey consisted of questions defining demographics, duties of the typical CR, and opinions regarding the level of support and training received. Multiple choice, Likert scale (1 strong agreement, 5 strong disagreement) and short-answer responses were used. We analyzed associations between CR and PD responses using Chi-square, Student’s T and Mann-Whitney U tests.

Results: Seventy-six percent of CRs and 65% of PDs responded and were similar except for age (31 vs. 42 years; p<0.001). CR respondents were most often male, in year 3 of training and held the position for 12 months. CRs and PDs agreed that the assigned level of responsibility is appropriate (2.63 vs. 2.73, p=0.15); but CRs underestimate their influence in the residency program (1.94 vs. 2.34, p=0.002) and the emergency department (2.61 vs. 3.03, p=0.002). The majority of CRs (70%) and PDs (77%) report participating in an extramural training program, and those CRs who participated in training felt more prepared for their job duties (2.26 vs. 2.73; p=0.03).

Conclusion: EM CRs feel they have appropriate job responsibility but believe they are less influential in program and department administration than PD respondents. Extramural training programs for incoming CRs are widely used and felt to be helpful. [West J Emerg Med. 2010; 11(2):120-125.]

The Association Between Money and Opinion in Academic Emergency Medicine

Objectives: Financial conflicts of interest have come under increasing scrutiny in medicine, but their impact has not been quantified. Our objective was to use the results of a national survey of academic emergency medicine (EM) faculty to determine if an association between money and personal opinion exists.

Methods: We conducted a web-based survey of EM faculty. Opinion questions were analyzed with regard to whether the respondent had either 1) received research grant money or 2) received money from industry as a speaker, consultant, or advisor. Responses were unweighted, and tests of differences in proportions were made using Chi-squared tests, with p<0.05 set for significance.

Results: We received responses from 430 members; 98 (23%) received research grants from industry, while 145 (34%) reported fee-for-service money. Respondents with research money were more likely to be comfortable accepting gifts (40% vs. 29%) and acting as paid consultants (50% vs. 37%). They had a more favorable attitude with regard to societal interactions with industry and felt that industry-sponsored lectures could be fair and unbiased (52% vs. 29%). Faculty with fee-for-service money mirrored those with research money. They were also more likely to believe that industry-sponsored research produces fair and unbiased results (61% vs. 45%) and less likely to believe that honoraria biased speakers (49% vs. 69%).

Conclusion: Accepting money for either service or research identified a distinct population defined by their opinions. Faculty engaged in industry-sponsored research benefitted socially (collaborations), academically (publications), and financially from the relationship. [West J Emerg Med. 2010; 11(2):126-132.]

Identification and Risk-Stratification of Problem Alcohol Drinkers with Minor Trauma in the Emergency Department

Background: Brief alcohol intervention may improve outcomes for injury patients with hazardous drinking but is less effective with increased severity of alcohol involvement. This study evaluated a brief method for detecting problem drinking in minor trauma patients and differentiating hazardous drinkers from those with more severe alcohol problems.

Methods: Subjects included 60 minor trauma patients in an academic urban emergency department (ED) who had consumed any amount of alcohol in the prior month. Screening and risk stratification involved the use of a heavy-drinking-day screening item and the Rapid Alcohol Problems Screen (RAPS). We compared the heavy-drinking-day item to past-month alcohol use, as obtained by validated self-reporting methods, and measured the percentage of carbohydrate-deficient transferrin (%CDT) to assess the accuracy of self-reporting. The Alcohol Dependence Scale (ADS) was administered to gauge the severity of alcohol involvement and compared to the RAPS.

Results: Eighty percent of the subjects endorsed at least one heavy drinking day in the past year, and all patients who exceeded recommended weekly drinking limits endorsed at least one heavy drinking day. Among those with at least one heavy drinking day, 58% had a positive RAPS result. Persons with no heavy drinking days (n=12) had a median ADS of 0.5 (range 0 to 3). RAPS-negative persons with heavy drinking days (n=20) had a median ADS of 2 (range 0 to 8). RAPS-positive persons with heavy drinking days (n=28) had a median ADS of 8 (range 1 to 43).

Conclusion: A heavy-drinking-day item is useful for detecting hazardous drinking patterns, and the RAPS is useful for differentiating more problematic drinkers who may benefit from referral from those more likely to respond to a brief intervention. This represents a time-sensitive approach for risk-stratifying non-abstinent injury patients prior to ED discharge. [West J Emerg Med. 2010; 11(2):133-137.]

Sonographic Scoring for Operating Room Triage in Trauma

Objective: The focused assessment with sonography for trauma (FAST) exam is a routine diagnostic adjunct in the initial assessment of blunt trauma victims but lacks the ability to reliably predict which patients require laparotomy. Physiologic data play a major role in decision making regarding the need for emergent laparotomy versus further diagnostic testing or observation. The need for laparotomy often influences the decision to transfer the patient to a trauma center. We set out to derive a simple scoring system using both ultrasound findings and immediately available physiologic data that would predict which patients require laparotomy.

Methods: We conducted a prospective observational study of victims of blunt trauma who presented to a Level 1 Trauma Center. We collected FAST findings, physiologic data, and lab values. A previously-developed ultrasound scoring system was applied to the FAST findings. Patients were followed to determine if they underwent laparotomy. We used logistic regression analysis to determine which variables correlated with laparotomy and developed a new scoring system.

Results: We enrolled a convenience sample of 1,393 patients. A simple scoring system (range 0-6) was developed that included both FAST findings and vital signs (heart rate and blood pressure). Patients with a score of 0 or 1 had a less than 1% chance of requiring laparotomy.

Conclusion: The combination of FAST findings with vital signs in our scoring system predicted which victims of blunt trauma did not undergo laparotomy. Applying this to trauma patients who present to non-trauma centers could help prevent unnecessary patient transfers. This derivation set must be validated prior to use in patient care. [West J Emerg Med. 2010; 11(2):138-143.]

Chlorine Gas: An Evolving Hazardous Material Threat and Unconventional Weapon

Chlorine gas represents a hazardous material threat from industrial accidents and as a terrorist weapon. This review will summarize recent events involving chlorine disasters and its use by terrorists, discuss pre-hospital considerations and suggest strategies for the initial management for acute chlorine exposure events. [West J Emerg Med. 2010; 11(2):151-156.]

Cocaine-Associated Seizures and Incidence of Status Epilepticus

Objectives: Acute complications from cocaine abuse are commonly treated in the emergency department (ED); one of the most consequential is status epilepticus. The incidence of this complication is not clearly defined in the prior literature on cocaine-associated sequelae. We evaluated the incidence of status epilepticus in patients with seizures secondary to suspected cocaine use.

Methods: We performed a retrospective multi-center study of patients with seizures resulting from cocaine use. We identified study subjects at 15 hospitals by record review and conducted a computer-assisted records search to identify patients with seizures for each institution over a four-year period. We selected subjects from this group on the basis of cocaine use and determined the occurrence of status epilepticus among them. Data were collected on each subject using a standardized data collection form.

Results: We evaluated 43 patients in the ED for cocaine-associated seizures. Their age range was 17 to 54, with a mean age was 31 years; 53% were male. Of 43 patients, 42 experienced a single tonic-clonic seizure and one developed status epilepticus. All patients had either a history of cocaine use or positive urine drug screen for cocaine.

Conclusion: Despite reported cases of status epilepticus with cocaine-induced seizures, the incidence of this complication was unclear based on prior literature. This study shows that most cocaine-associated seizures are self-limited. [West J Emerg Med. 2010; 11(2):157-160.]

Etomidate As An Induction Agent In Septic Patients: Red Flags Or False Alarms?

Despite its widespread use in North America and many other parts of the world, the safety of etomidate as an induction agent for rapid sequence intubation in septic patients is still debated. In this article, we evaluate the current literature on etomidate, review its clinical history, and discuss the controversy regarding its use, especially in sepsis. We address eight questions: (i) When did concern over the safety of etomidate first arise? (ii) What is the mechanism by which etomidate is thought to affect the adrenal axis? (iii) How has adrenal insufficiency in relation to etomidate use been defined or identified in the literature? (iv) What is the evidence that single dose etomidate is associated with subsequent adrenal-cortisol dysfunction? (v) What is the clinical significance of adrenal insufficiency or dysfunction associated with single dose etomidate, and where are the data that support or refute the contention that single-dose etomidate is associated with increased mortality or important post emergency department (ED) clinical outcomes? (vi) How should etomidate’s effects in septic patients best be measured? (vii) What are alternative induction agents and what are the advantages and disadvantages of these agents relative to etomidate? (viii) What future work is needed to further clarify the characteristics of etomidate as it is currently used in patients with sepsis? We conclude that the observational nature of almost all available data suggesting adverse outcomes from etomidate does not support abandoning its use for rapid sequence induction. However, because we see a need to balance theoretical harms and benefits in the presence of data supporting the non-inferiority of alternative agents without similar theoretical risks associated with them, we suggest that the burden of proof to support continued widespread use may rest with the proponents of etomidate. We further suggest that practitioners become familiar with the use of more than one agent while awaiting further definitive data. [West J Emerg Med. 2010; 11(2):161-172.]

A Pilot Study of the Performance Characteristics of the D-dimer in Presumed Sepsis.

Objectives: To determine if a sensitive D-dimer assay can exclude progression to organ dysfunction, death, and intensive care unit (ICU) admission in patients presenting to the emergency department (ED) with suspected infection, and if increasing levels of D-dimer are predictive of those end points.

Methods: The study took place at two academic EDs, both located in tertiary care hospitals. This was a prospective convenience sample of adult patients presenting with an infective process and at least two of four criteria for the Systemic Inflammatory Response Syndrome. We measured D-dimer levels in the participants and abstracted their records for the end points. Sensitivity and specificity were calculated and receiver operating characteristic analysis was performed to determine if a higher cutoff would have a greater specificity for our end points.

Results: We enrolled 134 patients. Twelve were excluded from analysis (10 for lack of a D-dimer, one for recent surgery, and one for complete loss to follow up). Using the cutoff of 0.4 established by our laboratories as positive, the D-dimer had a sensitivity of 94% (CI95; 76-99) for organ dysfunction in the ED, 93% (72-99) for organ dysfunction at 48 hours, 93% (81-98) for ICU admission, and 100% (63-100) for 30-day mortality. However, at this cutoff, specificity was not statistically significant. Significantly raising the cutoff for a positive resulted in a decrease in sensitivity but improved specificity.

Conclusion: This study was limited by its nonconsecutive patient recruitment and sample size. A normal D-dimer may exclude progression to organ dysfunction, ICU admission, and death and, at higher cutoff levels, could help risk stratify patients presenting to the ED with signs of sepsis.

[West J Emerg Med. 2010;11(2):173-179.]

Incidence, Radiographical Features, and Proposed Mechanism for Pneumocephalus from Intravenous Injection of Air

Background: Pneumocephalus typically implies a traumatic breach in the meningeal layer or an intracranial gas-producing infection. Unexplained pneumocephalus on a head computed tomography (CT) in an emergency setting often compels emergency physicians to undertake aggressive evaluation and consultation.

Methods: In this paper, we report three cases of pneumocephalus that appear to result from retrograde injection of air through an intravenous (IV) catheter. We also performed a retrospective study to determine the incidence of presumed IV-induced pneumocephalus and etiologies of pneumocephalus in our emergency department (ED) population.

Results: The incidence of idiopathic and presumed IV-induced pneumocephalus was 0.034% among all head CTs ordered in the ED and 4.88% among cases of pneumocephalus seen in the ED. These cases are characterized clinically by the absence of signs and symptoms of pathologic pneumocephalus and radiographically by the distribution of air densities along the cranial venous system on head CTs.

Conclusion: Idiopathic and presumed IV-induced pneumocephalus could be considered in the workup of ED patients with unexplained intracranial air on head CT if there are no findings of pathological causes for the pneumocephalus on history and physical examination and if the head CTs show a characteristic distribution of air limited to the cranial venous system. Knowledge of this clinical entity in the evaluation of ED patients with unexplained pneumocephalus can lead to more efficient emergency care and less patient anxiety. [West J Emerg Med. 2010; 11(2):180-185.]

Catatonia Associated with Initiating Paliperidone Treatment

We present a case of catatonia, which occurred shortly after starting a new antipsychotic, paliperidone, an active metabolite of risperidone. Catatonia may be caused by a variety of conditions, including metabolic, neurologic, psychiatric and toxic processes. Interestingly, risperidone, which has been thought to cause several cases of catatonia, has also been recommended as a potential treatment. We discuss potential mechanisms for causes of drug-induced catatonia as well as potential treatment options. [West J Emerg Med. 2010; 11(2):186-188.]

Effect of Hospital Staff Surge Capacity on Preparedness for a Conventional Mass Casualty Event

Objectives: To assess current medical staffing levels within the Hospital Referral System in the City of Cape Town Metropolitan Municipality, South Africa, and analyze the surge capacity needs to prepare for the potential of a conventional mass casualty incident during a planned mass gathering.

Methods: Query of all available medical databases of both state employees and private medical personnel within the greater Cape Town area to determine current staffing levels and distribution of personnel across public and private domains. Analysis of the adequacy of available staff to manage a mass casualty incident.

Results: There are 594 advanced pre-hospital personnel in Cape Town (17/100,000 population) and 142 basic pre-hospital personnel (4.6/100,000). The total number of hospital and clinic-based medical practitioners is 3097 (88.6/100,000), consisting of 1914 general physicians; 54.7/100,000 and 1183 specialist physicians; 33.8/100,000. Vacancy rates for all medical practitioners range from 23.5% to 25.5%. This includes: nursing post vacancies (26%), basic emergency care practitioners (39.3%), advanced emergency care personnel (66.8%), pharmacy assistants (42.6%), and pharmacists (33.1%).

Conclusion: There are sufficient numbers and types of personnel to provide the expected ordinary healthcare needs at mass gathering sites in Cape Town; however, qualified staff are likely insufficient to manage a concurrent mass casualty event. Considering that adequate correctly skilled and trained staff form the backbone of disaster surge capacity, it appears that Cape Town is currently under resourced to manage a mass casualty event. With the increasing size and frequency of mass gathering events worldwide, adequate disaster surge capacity is an issue of global relevance.

[West J Emerg Med. 2010; 11(2):189-196.]

Ileocecal Intussusception in the Adult Population: Case Series of Two Patients

Background: Intussusception is a condition found primarily in the pediatric population. In the adult population, however, intussusception is usually due to a pathological process, with a higher risk of bowel obstruction, vascular compromise, inflammatory changes, ischemia, and necrosis. Radiographic and sonographic evidence can aid in the diagnosis. Surgical intervention involving resection of affected bowel is the standard of care in adult cases of intussusception.

Case Reports: We present the case of a 21-year-old female who presented to the Emergency Department with diffuse cramping abdominal pain and distention. Workup revealed ileocecal intussusception, with a prior appendectomy scar serving as the lead point discovered during exploratory laparotomy. We also present the case of a 66-year-old male, who presented with one week of intermittent lower abdominal pain associated with several episodes of nausea and vomiting. Workup revealed ileocolic intussusception secondary to adenocarcinoma of the right colon, confirmed upon exploratory laparotomy with subsequent right hemicolectomy.

Conclusion: In the adult population, intussusception is usually caused by a lead point, with subsequent telescoping of one part of the bowel into an adjacent segment. While intussusception can occur in any part of the bowel, it usually occurs between a freely moving segment and either a retroperitoneal or an adhesion-fixed segment. The etiology may be associated with pathological processes such as carcinoma or iatrogenic causes, such as scars or adhesions from prior surgeries. The cases presented here demonstrate important etiologies of abdominal pain in adult patients. Along with gynecological etiologies of lower quadrant abdominal pain in female patients, it is important for the emergency physician to expand the differential diagnosis to include other causes, such as intussusceptions, especially given the symptoms that could be associated with bowel obstruction. [West J Emerg Med. 2010;197-200.]

Cecal Volvulus in Adolescence Presenting as Recurring Visits for Abdominal Pain

Repeat visits to an emergency department (ED) within a short period of time for recurring or continuing abdominal pain should make physicians suspicious for relapsing or episodic disease processes. I present a case of a 17-year-old female with cecal volvulus found only after multiple ED visits. [West J Emerg Med. 2010; 11(2):202-204.]

Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis From a Cigarette Burn

Toxic epidermal necrolysis is a rare disease that is most often drug-induced but can be of idiopathic origin. We present a case that originated at the site of a cigarette burn to the forearm and review the key elements of physical exam findings and management of this life-threatening dermatological condition, which needs to be promptly recognized to decrease patient mortality. [West J Emerg Med. 2010; 11(2):205-207.]

Retrobulbar Hematoma from Warfarin Toxicity and the Limitations of Bedside Ocular Sonography

The following case describes a 26-year-old female who presented to the emergency department with a nontrauamtic retrobulbar hematoma associated with warfarin toxicity. The application and limitations of focused bedside ocular sonography for this condition are discussed. [West J Emerg Med 2010; 11(2):208-210.]