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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Volume 17, Issue 1, 2016

Volume 17, Issue 1, January 2016

Disaster Medicine/ Emergency Medical Services

The San Bernardino, California, Terror Attack: Two Emergency Departments’ Response

On December 2, 2015, a terror attack in the city of San Bernardino, California killed 14 Americans and injured 22 in the deadliest attack on U.S. soil since September 11, 2001. Although emergency personnel and law enforcement officials frequently deal with multi-casualty incidents (MCIs), what occurred that day required an unprecedented response. Most of the severely injured victims were transported to either Loma Linda University Medical Center (LLUMC) or Arrowhead Regional Medical Center (ARMC). These two hospitals operate two designated trauma centers in the region and played crucial roles during the massive response that followed this attack. In an effort to shed a light on our response to others, we provide an account of how these two teaching hospitals prepared for and coordinated the medical care of these victims.

In general, both centers were able to quickly mobilize large number of staff and resources. Prior disaster drills proved to be invaluable. Both centers witnessed excellent teamwork and coordination involving first responders, law enforcement, administration, and medical personnel from multiple specialty services. Those of us working that day felt safe and protected. Although we did identify areas we could have improved upon, including patchy communication and crowd-control, they were minor in nature and did not affect patient care.

MCIs pose major challenges to emergency departments and trauma centers across the country. Responding to such incidents requires an ever-evolving approach as no two incidents will present exactly alike. It is our hope that this article will foster discussion and lead to improvements in  management of future MCIs.

Injury Prevention and Population Health

Lethal Means Counseling for Parents of Youth Seeking Emergency Care for Suicidality

Introduction: A youth’s emergency department (ED) visit for suicidal behaviors or ideation provides an opportunity to counsel families about securing medications and firearms (i.e., lethal means counseling).

Methods: In this quality improvement project drawing on the Counseling on Access to Lethal Means (CALM) model, we trained 16 psychiatric emergency clinicians to provide lethal means counseling with parents of patients under age 18 receiving care for suicidality and discharged home from a large children’s hospital. Through chart reviews and follow-up interviews of parents who received the counseling, we examined what parents recalled, their reactions to the counseling session, and actions taken after discharge.

Results: Between March and July 2014, staff counseled 209 of the 236 (89%) parents of eligible patients. We conducted follow-up interviews with 114 parents, or 55% of those receiving the intervention; 48% of those eligible. Parents had favorable impressions of the counseling and good recall of the main messages. Among the parents contacted at follow up, 76% reported all medications in the home were locked as compared to fewer than 10% at the time of the visit. All who had indicated there were guns in the home at the time of the visit reported at follow up that all were currently locked, compared to 67% reporting this at the time of the visit.

Conclusion: Though a small project in just one hospital, our findings demonstrate the feasibility of adding a counseling protocol to the discharge process within a pediatric psychiatric emergency service. Our positive findings suggest that further study, including a randomized control trial in more facilities, is warranted.


Ethical and Legal Issues

Emergency Physicians as Good Samaritans: Survey of Frequency, Locations, Supplies and Medications

Introduction: Little is known about the frequency and locations in which emergency physicians (EPs) are bystanders to an accident or emergency; equally uncertain is which contents of an “emergency kit” may be useful during such events. The aim of this study was to describe the frequency and locations of Good Samaritan acts by EPs and also determine which emergency kit supplies and medications were most commonly used by Good Samaritans.

Methods: We conducted an electronic survey among a convenience sample of EPs in Colorado.

Results: Respondents reported a median frequency of 2.0 Good Samaritan acts per five years of practice, with the most common locations being sports and entertainment events (25%), road traffic accidents (21%), and wilderness settings (19%). Of those who had acted as Good Samaritans, 86% reported that at least one supply would have been useful during the most recent event, and 66% reported at least one medication would have been useful. The most useful supplies were gloves (54%), dressings (34%), and a stethoscope (20%), while the most useful medications were oxygen (19%), intravenous fluids (17%), and epinephrine (14%).

Conclusion: The majority of EPs can expect to provide Good Samaritan care during their careers and would be better prepared by carrying a kit with common supplies and medications where they are most likely to use them.

Emergency Department Access

Access to In-Network Emergency Physicians and Emergency Departments Within Federally Qualified Health Plans in 2015

Introduction: Under regulations established by the Affordable Care Act, insurance plans must meet minimum standards in order to be sold through the federal Marketplace. These standards to become a qualified health plan (QHP) include maintaining a provider network sufficient to assure access to services. However, the complexity of emergency physician (EP) employment practices – in which the EPs frequently serve as independent contractors of emergency departments, independently establish insurance contracts, etc… – and regulations governing insurance repayment may hinder the application of network adequacy standards to emergency medicine. As such, we hypothesized the existence of QHPs without in-network access to EPs. The objective is to identify whether there are QHPs without in-network access to EPs using information available through the federal Marketplace and publicly available provider directories.

Results: In a national sample of Marketplace plans, we found that one in five provider networks lacks identifiable in-network EPs. QHPs lacking EPs spanned nearly half (44%) of the 34 states using the federal Marketplace.

Conclusion: Our data suggest that the present regulatory framework governing network adequacy is not generalizable to emergency care, representing a missed opportunity to protect patient access to in-network physicians. These findings and the current regulations governing insurance payment to EPs dis-incentivize the creation of adequate physician networks, incentivize the practice of balance billing, and shift the cost burden to patients.

Association of Insurance Status with Severity and Management in ED Patients with Asthma Exacerbation

Introduction: Previous studies have demonstrated an association of low socioeconomic status with frequent asthma exacerbations. However, there have been no recent multicenter efforts to examine the relationship of insurance status – a proxy for socioeconomic status – with asthma severity and management in adults. The objective is to investigate chronic and acute asthma management disparities by insurance status among adults requiring emergency department (ED) treatment in the United States.

Methods: We conducted a multicenter chart review study (48 EDs in 23 U.S. states) on ED patients, aged 18-54 years, with acute asthma between 2011 and 2012. Each site underwent training (lecture, practice charts, certification) before reviewing randomly selected charts. We categorized patients into three groups based on their primary health insurance: private, public, and no insurance. Outcome measures were chronic asthma severity (as measured by ≥2 ED visits in one-year period) and management prior to the index ED visit, acute asthma management in the ED, and prescription at ED discharge.

Results: The analytic cohort comprised 1,928 ED patients with acute asthma. Among these, 33% had private insurance, 40% had public insurance, and 27% had no insurance. Compared to patients with private insurance, those with public insurance or no insurance were more likely to have ≥2 ED visits during the preceding year (35%, 49%, and 45%, respectively; p<0.001). Despite the higher chronic severity, those with no insurance were less likely to have guideline-recommended chronic asthma care – i.e., lower use of inhaled corticosteroids (ICS [41%, 41%, and 29%; p<0.001]) and asthma specialist care (9%, 10%, and 4%; p<0.001). By contrast, there were no significant differences in acute asthma management in the ED – e.g., use of systemic corticosteroids (75%, 79%, and 78%; p=0.08) or initiation of ICS at ED discharge (12%, 12%, and 14%; p=0.57) – by insurance status.

Conclusion: In this multicenter observational study of ED patients with acute asthma, we found significant discrepancies in chronic asthma severity and management by insurance status. By contrast, there were no differences in acute asthma management among the insurance groups.


Healthcare Utilization

Randomized Controlled Trial of Electronic Care Plan Alerts and Resource Utilization by High Frequency Emergency Department Users with Opioid Use Disorder

Introduction: There is a paucity of literature supporting the use of electronic alerts for patients with high frequency emergency department (ED) use. We sought to measure changes in opioid prescribing and administration practices, total charges and other resource utilization using electronic alerts to notify providers of an opioid-use care plan for high frequency ED patients.

Methods: This was a randomized, non-blinded, two-group parallel design study of patients who had 1) opioid use disorder and 2) high frequency ED use. Three affiliated hospitals with identical electronic health records participated. Patients were randomized into “Care Plan” versus “Usual Care groups”. Between the years before and after randomization, we compared as primary outcomes the following: 1) opioids (morphine mg equivalents) prescribed to patients upon discharge and administered to ED and inpatients; 2) total medical charges, and the numbers of; 3) ED visits, 4) ED visits with advanced radiologic imaging (computed tomography [CT] or magnetic resonance imaging [MRI]) studies, and 5) inpatient admissions.

Results: A total of 40 patients were enrolled. For ED and inpatients in the “Usual Care” group, the proportion of morphine mg equivalents received in the post-period compared with the pre-period was 15.7%, while in the “Care Plan” group the proportion received in the post-period compared with the pre-period was 4.5% (ratio=0.29, 95% CI [0.07-1.12]; p=0.07). For discharged patients in the “Usual Care” group, the proportion of morphine mg equivalents prescribed in the post-period compared with the pre-period was 25.7% while in the “Care Plan” group, the proportion prescribed in the post-period compared to the pre-period was 2.9%. The “Care Plan” group showed an 89% greater proportional change over the periods compared with the “Usual Care” group (ratio=0.11, 95% CI [0.01-0.092]; p=0.04). Care plans did not change the total charges, or, the numbers of ED visits, ED visits with CT or MRI or inpatient admissions.

Conclusion: Electronic care plans were associated with an incremental decrease in opioids (in morphine mg equivalents) prescribed to patients with opioid use disorder and high frequency ED use.

Frequency of Fractures Identified on Post-Reduction Radiographs after Shoulder Dislocation

Introduction: Most emergency physicians routinely obtain shoulder radiographs before and after shoulder dislocations. However, currently there is limited literature demonstrating how frequently new fractures are identified on post-reduction radiographs. The primary objective of this study was to determine the frequency of new, clinically significant fractures identified on post-reduction radiographs with a secondary outcome assessing total new fractures identified.

Methods: We conducted a retrospective chart review using appropriate International Classification of Diseases, 9th Revision (ICD-9) codes to identify all potential shoulder dislocations that were reduced in a single, urban, academic emergency department (ED) over a five-year period. We excluded cases that required operative reduction, had associated proximal humeral head or shaft fractures, or were missing one or more shoulder radiograph reports. All charts were abstracted separately by two study investigators with disagreements settled by consensus among three investigators. Images from indeterminate cases were reviewed by a radiology attending physician with musculoskeletal expertise. The primary outcome was the percentage of new, clinically significant fractures defined as those altering acute ED management. Secondary outcomes included percentage of new fractures of any type.

Results: We identified 185 total patients meeting our study criteria. There were no new, clinically significant fractures on post-reduction radiographs. There were 13 (7.0%; 95% CI [3.3%-10.7%]) total new fractures identified, all of which were without clinical significance for acute ED management.

Conclusion: Post-reduction radiographs do not appear to identify any new, clinically significant fractures. Practitioners should re-consider the use of routine post-reduction radiographs in the ED setting for shoulder dislocations.


Identifying Frequent Users of an Urban Emergency Medical Service Using Descriptive Statistics and Regression Analyses

This retrospective cohort study provides a descriptive analysis of a population that frequently uses an urban emergency medical service (EMS) and identifies factors that contribute to use among all frequent users. For purposes of this study we divided frequent users into the following groups: low- frequent users (4 EMS transports in 2012), medium-frequent users (5 to 6 EMS transports in 2012), high-frequent users (7 to 10 EMS transports in 2012) and super-frequent users (11 or more EMS transports in 2012). Overall, we identified 539 individuals as frequent users.

For all groups of EMS frequent users (i.e. low, medium, high and super) one or more hospital admissions, receiving a referral for follow-up care upon discharge, and having no insurance were found to be statistically significant with frequent EMS use (P<0.05). Within the diagnostic categories, 41.61% of super-frequent users had a diagnosis of “primarily substance abuse/misuse” and among low-frequent users a majority, 53.33%, were identified as having a “reoccurring (medical) diagnosis.” Lastly, relative risk ratios for the highest group of users, super-frequent users, were 3.34 (95% CI [1.90-5.87]) for obtaining at least one referral for follow-up care, 13.67 (95% CI [5.60-33.34]) for having four or more hospital admissions and 5.95 (95% CI [1.80-19.63]) for having a diagnoses of primarily substance abuse/misuse.

Findings from this study demonstrate that among low- and medium-frequent users a majority of patients are using EMS for reoccurring medical conditions. This could potentially be avoided with better care management. In addition, this study adds to the current literature that illustrates a strong correlation between substance abuse/misuse and high/super-frequent EMS use. For the subgroup analysis among individuals 65 years of age and older, we did not find any of the independent variables included in our model to be statistically significant with frequent EMS use.

Technology in Emergency Medicine

Point-of-Care Multi-Organ Ultrasound Improves Diagnostic Accuracy in Adults Presenting to the Emergency Department with Acute Dyspnea

Introduction: Determining the etiology of acute dyspnea in emregency department (ED) patients is often difficult. Point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) holds promise for improving immediate diagnostic accuracy (after history and physical), thus improving use of focused therapies. We evaluate the impact of a three-part POCUS exam, or “triple scan” (TS) – composed of abbreviated echocardiography, lung ultrasound and inferior vena cava (IVC) collapsibility assessment – on the treating physician’s immediate diagnostic impression.

Methods: A convenience sample of adults presenting to our urban academic ED with acute dyspnea (Emergency Severity Index 1, 2) were prospectively enrolled when investigator sonographers were available. The method for performing components of the TS has been previously described in detail. Treating physicians rated the most likely diagnosis after history and physical but before other studies (except electrocardiogram) returned. An investigator then performed TS and disclosed the results, after which most likely diagnosis was reassessed. Final diagnosis (criterion standard) was based on medical record review by expert emergency medicine faculty blinded to TS result. We compared accuracy of pre-TS and post-TS impression (primary outcome) with McNemar’s test. Test characteristics for treating physician impression were also calculated by dichotomizing acute decompensated heart failure (ADHF), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and pneumonia as present or absent.

Results: 57 patients were enrolled with the leading final diagnoses being ADHF (26%), COPD/asthma (30%), and pneumonia (28%). Overall accuracy of the treating physician’s impression increased from 53% before TS to 77% after TS (p=0.003). The post-TS impression was 100% sensitive and 84% specific for ADHF.

Conclusion: In this small study, POCUS evaluation of the heart, lungs and IVC improved the treating physician’s immediate overall diagnostic accuracy for ADHF, COPD/asthma and pneumonia and was particularly useful to immediately exclude ADHF as the cause of acute dyspnea.

Strain Echocardiography in Acute Cardiovascular Diseases

Echocardiography has become a critical tool in the evaluation of patients presenting to the emergency department (ED) with acute cardiovascular diseases and undifferentiated cardiopulmonary symptoms. New technological advances allow clinicians to accurately measure left ventricular (LV) strain, a superior marker of LV systolic function compared to traditional measures such as ejection fraction, but most emergency physicians (EPs) are unfamiliar with this method of echocardiographic assessment.

This article discusses the application of LV longitudinal strain in the ED and reviews how it has been used in various disease states including acute heart failure, acute coronary syndromes (ACS) and pulmonary embolism.

It is important for EPs to understand the utility of technological and software advances in ultrasound and how new methods can build on traditional two-dimensional and Doppler techniques of standard echocardiography. The next step in competency development for EP-performed focused echocardiography is to adopt novel approaches such as strain using speckle-tracking software in the management of patients with acute cardiovascular disease. With the advent of speckle tracking, strain image acquisition and interpretation has become semi-automated making it something that could be routinely added to the sonographic evaluation of patients presenting to the ED with cardiovascular disease. Once strain imaging is adopted by skilled EPs, focused echocardiography can be expanded and more direct, phenotype-driven care may be achievable for ED patients with a variety of conditions including heart failure, ACS and shock.


Global Health

Emergency Medicine Resident Rotations Abroad: Current Status and Next Steps

Introduction: International rotations for residents are increasingly popular, but there is a dearth of evidence to demonstrate that these rotations are safe and that residents have appropriate training and support to conduct them.

Methods: A survey was sent to all U.S. emergency medicine (EM) residencies  with publicly available e-mail addresses. The survey documents and examines the training and support that emergency medicine residents are offered for international rotations and the frequency of adverse safety events.

Results: 72.5% of program director responded that their residents are participating in rotations abroad. However, only 15.4% of programs reported offering training specific to working abroad. The results point to an increased need for specific training and insurance coverage.

Conclusion: Oversight of international rotations should be improved to guarantee safety and education benefit.

Emergency Department of a Rural Hospital in Ecuador

Introduction: There is a paucity of data studying patients and complaints presenting to emergency departments (EDs) in low- and middle-income countries. The town of Pedro Vicente Maldonado (PVM) is located in the northwestern highlands of Ecuador. Hospital PVM (HPVM) is a rural teaching hospital providing family medicine residency training. These physicians provide around-the-clock acute medical care in HPVM’s ED. This study provides a first look at a functioning ED in rural Latin America by reviewing one year of ED visits to HPVM.

Methods: All ED visits between April 14, 2013, and April 13, 2014, were included and analyzed, totaling 1,239 patient visits. Data were collected from their electronic medical record and exported into a de-identified Excel® database where it was sorted and categorized. Variables included age, gender, mode of arrival, insurance type, month and day of the week of the service, chief complaint, laboratory and imaging requests, and disposition. We performed descriptive statistics, and where possible, comparisons using Student’s T or chi-square, as appropriate.

Results: Of the 1239 total ED visits, 48% were males and 52% females; 93% of the visits were ambulatory, and 7% came by ambulance. Sixty-three percent of the patients had social security insurance. The top three chief complaints were abdominal pain (25.5%), fever (15.1%) and trauma (10.8%). Healthcare providers requested labs on 71.3% of patients and imaging on 43.2%. The most frequently requested imaging studies were chest radiograph (14.9%), upper extremity radiograph (9.4%), and electrocardiogram (9.0%). There was no seasonal or day-of-week variability to number of ED patients. The chief complaint of human or animal bite made it more likely the patient would be admitted, and the chief complaint of traumatic injury made it more likely the patient would be transferred.

Conclusion: Analysis of patients presenting to a rural ED in Ecuador contributes to the global study of acute care in the developing world and also provides a self-analysis identifying disease patterns of the area, training topics for residents, areas for introducing protocols, and information to help planning for rural EDs in low- and middle-income countries.

Medication Overdoses at a Public Emergency Department in Santiago, Chile

Introduction: While a nationwide poison control registry exists in Chile, reporting to the center is sporadic and happens at the discretion of the treating physician or by patients’ self-report. Moreover, individual hospitals do not monitor accidental or intentional poisoning in a systematic manner. The goal of this study was to identify all cases of intentional medication overdose (MO) that occurred over two years at a large public hospital in Santiago, Chile, and examine its epidemiologic profile.

Methods: This study is a retrospective, explicit chart review conducted at Hospital Sótero del Rio from July 2008 until June 2010. We included all cases of identified intentional MO. Alcohol and recreational drugs were included only when they were ingested with other medications.

Results: We identified 1,557 cases of intentional MO and analyzed a total of 1,197 cases, corresponding to 0.51% of all emergency department (ED) presentations between July 2008 and June 2010. The median patient age was 25 years. The majority was female (67.6%). Two peaks were identified, corresponding to the spring of each year sampled. The rate of hospital admission was 22.2%. Benzodiazepines, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, and tricyclic antidepressants (TCA) were the causative agents most commonly found, comprising 1,044 (87.2%) of all analyzed cases. Acetaminophen was involved in 81 (6.8%) cases. More than one active substance was involved in 35% of cases. In 7.3% there was ethanol co-ingestion and in 1.0% co-ingestion of some other recreational drug (primarily cocaine). Of 1,557 cases, six (0.39%) patients died. TCA were involved in two of these deaths.

Conclusion: Similar to other developed and developing nations, intentional MO accounts for a significant number of ED presentations in Chile. Chile is unique in the region, however, in that its spectrum of intentional overdoses includes an excess burden of tricyclic antidepressant and benzodiazepine overdoses, a relatively low rate of alcohol and recreational drug co-ingestion, and a relatively low rate of acetaminophen ingestion.

Critical Care

Seldinger Technique for Placement of “Peripheral” Internal Jugular Line: Novel Approach for Emergent Vascular Access

This is a case report describing the ultrasound-guided placement of a peripheral intravenous catheter into the internal jugular vein of a patient with difficult vascular access. Although this technique has been described in the past, this case is novel in that the Seldinger technique was used to place the catheter. This allows for safer placement of a longer catheter (2.25”) without the need for venous dilation, which is potentially hazardous.

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