Sunday, May 03, 2009

911 Blogs

There's a blog published by the now online-only Seattle Post-Intelligencer called Seattle 911: A Police Blog. Many cities have similar sites that act as 21st century police scanner bulletins. While surfing for news this morning, I happened to find that the top three stories on the site involved patients I saw at Harborview Medical Center during my last shift. There are also pictures to help understand the injury mechanism. Here's one:

The entries each indicate transport to the hospital where I was on call. My willing compliance with HIPAA and patient confidentiality rules prevents me from saying any more about the specifics of the cases, but I will comment briefly on a facet of patient care that could use improvement. Information is often lost in the transition from witnesses to emergency response personel to emergency physicians to their hospital consultants. (I was a student on the orthopedics team at the time.) We hope that the important information is maintained, but invariably, there is something that we wish we had known at the time.

Even with excellent sign-offs between providers, patients come in to the hospital with limited histories. Patients could be 'out of it' due to shock, pain or pain medicine. There could be a language barrier. Patients are sometimes intubated. Important features may have been observed but not documented on the scene, in transit or during an initial physical exam.

One of the important questions in the patient's history for emergency docs are: How did this occur? Among providers, this question becomes: What was the mechanism? Discovering or confirming this info with the patient is one way emergency providers evaluate patient alertness and orientation while they do their injury surveys, so patients sometimes get annoyed at having to tell the same story over and over again. But that's if the patient can tell the story. Sometimes they cannot.

It turns out that the Seattle 911 blog had information that may have been helpful for providers to understand these patients' injuries. In two of the cases from Friday, the entry was made while (or soon after) the patient was in the emergency department, further underscoring the potential utility of electronic documentation of pictures. One of the patients described the accident in a way that when I saw the image, I thought, "I saw the person involved in that accident." The other image generated a, "So that's how that happened" response in me. The importance of pictures (yes, worth a thousand words) is well known in emergency care; the soon to be history Polaroids of automobile accidents are often taped to critically injured patients' charts. The photo below is more a reminder of how beautiful it was on Friday that how the accident occured.

It wouldn't have changed how we treated these patients to know the specifics documented in the blog entries; the primary determinants of treatment are derived from the physical exam and what the x-rays and CT scans reveal. But one wonders if speedy documentation of accidents and injuries in the field could ever be incorporated into the electronic medical record. iPhone medicine is already being practiced in many emergency departments. The fellow on our service used his Blackberry to photograph one of our patients' wounds. He only partially joked with the radiology tech that he needed it to plan for a surgery. The image was later used to communicate with the attending surgeon and was reshown the next morning during a sign-out conference.

Reforming and universalizing the electronic medical record is central to the Obama plan to reduce health care costs. I hope the software programmers include a mechanism for documenting accident photos. In the mean time, maybe I should keep the local injury blogs open on one of the ER's computers.

Photos are from the Seattle 911 blog and were taken by Ben Otteson and Dana Vander Houwen.

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