Posts Tagged ‘CT scans’

Concussions: The Message of Orioles’ Brian Roberts’ Injury Should Not Go Unheeded!

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

Brian Roberts - NBC Sports photo (modified)

As I was reading the sports page this morning, after working my way past yesterday’s Preakness news, I was motivated to write this post by the report of Jeff Zrebieck in the Baltimore Sun’s Notebook section. Earlier this week, Brian Roberts of the Orioles was removed from the lineup due to headaches. At the time, I thought back over the games that preceded this news report but couldn’t remember any incident when Roberts could have sustained an injury that led to his headaches. For a guy like Brian Roberts, whose recent career has been marred by injuries, it was hard to believe that as tough and gritty as he is, that something like a sinus problem, allergies or the like had felled this guy. Then within a day or so, following examination and testing, we learned that Brian had sustained a concussion.

Once again, I thought through the games leading up to his line-up departure and still couldn’t remember any play or at-bat that would, in my mind, cause a concussion. There was no high and tight, back-him-off-the-plate pitch, no knee to the head by a middle infielder when he was sliding into second on an attempted steal, not even a take-out at second base while he was turning a double play. As we learned later, he sustained his current injury while sliding into first base headfirst trying to beat out a single. He never struck his head on anyone or anything. So how in the world did Brian Roberts wind-up on the disabled list with a concussion?

Last year’s injury set the stage for a recurrence

While no one knows for sure, the speculation during the 2010 season, which was also marred for Roberts by a back injury, was that Roberts had caused the concussion when, out of sheer frustration from a bad plate appearance, he struck himself in the helmet with his bat on the return to the dugout. We’re not talking a violent collision between a defensive back and an unprotected wide receiver, a car crash or a vicious criminal assault. Nevertheless, Roberts’ head injury lingered on well past the end of the season, which ended for him six games early due to dizziness and headache following this incident.

When he reported to spring training, the Orioles faithful were hoping that the past season’s injuries (back, strained abdominal muscle, concussion), which caused him to miss a total of 103 games in 2010, were a thing of the past. Then on Wednesday, February 23, 2011, the report came out that Brian had left spring training that morning due to a stiff neck. What was this all about? Then came the news last week – a slide felled this mighty warrior.

Concussions: a mild traumatic brain injury

Just what is a concussion? Brainline.org, a great resource for those seeking more information about traumatic brain injuries, gives this description:

In a nutshell, a concussion is a blow or jolt to the head that can change the way your brain normally works. Also called amild traumatic brain injury, a concussion can result from a car crash, a sports injury, or from a seemingly innocuous fall.Concussion recovery times can vary greatly.

Most people who sustain a concussion or mild TBI are back to normal by three months or sooner. But others . . . have long-term problems remembering things and concentrating. Accidents can be so minor that neither doctor nor patient makes the connection.

The Days of Yore – “Gut It Out” – are thankfully coming to an end

Anyone who follows sports is well aware that finally the old school mentality of “gut it out and get back in there” following blows to the head are coming (not too soon) to an end. Committees have been formed, articles written and the national spotlight of the media have finally focused on this issue. Those recommendations, debates and guidelines are beyond the scope of this post. Nevertheless, those involved in sports, particularly at the scholastic levels, should constantly be aware of this ever-expanding information, which is available through multiple resources and media channels.

What are the signs and symptoms of a concussion?

While there is apparently no universally accepted definition of concussion despite hundreds of studies and years of research, according to one source, there is some unanimity in what are the worrisome signs and symptoms, which can include:

  • Headaches
  • Weakness
  • Numbness
  • Decreased coordination or balance
  • Confusion
  • Slurred speech
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

If you or someone in your family has sustained any type of head injury, no matter how minor and they show these signs or symptoms, get to the doctor or an emergency room immediately.

CT Scans, MRI’s and other diagnostic test after head injuries

TBI’s or traumatic brain injuries are reported to be “a major cause of death and disability worldwide, especially in children and young adults.” In cases of obvious severe head trauma, it’s a “no-brainer” that diagnostic testing should be done. But what about cases of mild to moderate head trauma? Who defines what is “minor” and “moderate” when it comes to TBI’s? What testing is necessary; when is it unnecessary?

While these judgments are made by the medical professionals, you need to be your own advocate at times in making this decision-making process. Brian Roberts was tested and submitted to radiographic tests for a host of reasons – probably not the least of which is the fact that he is a very valuable member of a professional sports team. What about the ordinary guy in the street?

Well, the short answer is – the recommendations vary when it comes to mild and moderate head injuries. In fact, the very definition of what constitutes a moderate TBI can also vary depending on whom you read. Nevertheless, certain signs, symptoms and history are not disputed indications for a radiographic study to rule in or rule out a potential brain injury. For example, one need only read the indications for the use of radiographic studies published by MedicineWorld.org or a host of other organizations on this topic.

In a recent case, I personally came across someone whom I believe to be a leader in the field of traumatic brain injuries (TBI), Dr. Andy Jagoda, an emergency medicine specialist in New York. He has done extensive research, writing and lecturing on this topic. I’ll save you the effort, here are the search results for his body of work.

A Lesson – Hopefully – Learned

I started this piece with the story of Brian Roberts. I didn’t simply do this because I am a long-suffering fan of the Orioles (which I am) and an admirer of Brian Roberts (which I also am) but because of the message his story tells us. A self-inflicted bat to the helmet because of a strikeout? A slide into first base with no blow to the head? A concussion none the less – apparently!

Brian Roberts may have a team of medical specialists watching and monitoring his every grimace, complaint and move; you probably won’t have that luxury. If you have a head injury – minor or otherwise – and have any of the known signs, symptoms or risk factors for a traumatic brain injury, be vigilant and pro-active for your own health and well-being.

If you are in an emergency room and the discussion of whether or not you should undergo radiographic testing takes place, get involved – ask questions. If you are discharged from the emergency room, whether you had a CT or an MRI or not, pay very careful attention to the head injury discharge instructions you are given. It is a well known phenomenon that there can be a delay in symptoms and signs of a TBI days if not weeks later. If you are suffering any ill-effects during this post-discharge period, get to a healthcare provider immediately.

The stories of how lives are altered forever more as a result of TBI are legion. Don’t become yet another statistic.

Your time to share

Have you ever had a TBI? Know someone who has? What happened in that situation? Was a test done? Do you think CT scans are overused, particularly in children? Are they underused? How did your “experience” turn out? Any advice for others? Share, Good People, share!

Good luck, Brian – and speed recovery!

 

 

 

Clinics and Emergency Rooms: Helpful or Barriers to Good Pediatric Care?

Friday, April 15th, 2011

Image from: denverpost.com - (Photo: istock.com | Photo illustration: Linda Shapley, The Denver Post )

In my last post, I discussed the idea of a medical home and the comprehensive healthcare it is meant to provide. For families for whom insurance, work scheduling or other demands make seeing a doctor during regular office hours difficult, many turn to retail based clinics or emergency rooms to fill-in and provide care. Whether this is in addition to or instead of a primary care provider, it is a reality that many families are using clinics and emergency rooms to fulfill at least some of their healthcare needs.

The difficulty with receiving care in these settings, as opposed to a true medical home, is that the health care providers in these settings do not have a complete medical history or record. Each time there is a problem, a different health care provider is likely to provide care and therefore, the continuity of care is lost. Moreover, if there is a bigger problem or a bigger picture issue for the patient or family, the health care provider is really not able to help make the diagnosis and assist in formulating a care plan. Recently, I have come across a number of interesting articles,which examine some of the other pitfalls of using retail clinics or emergency rooms for care, particularly for children. Their observations and opinions are well worth sharing.

In a recent blog article on kevinmd.com, Dr. Roy Benaroch discusses a variety of reasons why – for good pediatric care – you should avoid retail clinics . He highlights the potential conflicts of interest that exist when a clinic is within a store that also sells prescriptions. He defines good pediatric care as:

Care that looks at the whole child, the whole history, and the whole story. To do a good job I have to review the history, the growth charts, the prior blood pressures, the immunization records, and more. Good care means I’m available for every concern—not just the sore throat, but the “Oh, by the way…” worries that are often more significant than the current illness. Things like “He’s not doing so well in school,” or “I think he looks clumsy when he runs,” or “What am I going to do about these headaches every day?” Every encounter is a catch-up on problems and concerns from before, to be reviewed and updated. Children are growing and developing, and every encounter is a snapshot of their over all well-being that can only make sense if it can be placed into a continuous album. At the retail-based clinic, the encounters are just a quick toss-off: an opportunity for genuinely improving health that’s thrown away.

He also points out the need for providers to be specialized in pediatrics and to be up-to-date on current medical recommendations. Providers in these clinics may be generalists and not up-to-date in the specifics of care for children.

A recent article in the New York Times highlights one potential hazard for children visiting emergency rooms for care – the increased use of CT scans. The article reports that the use of CT scans for children visiting emergency rooms has increased fivefold between 1995 and 2008, such that almost six percent of children visiting the emergency room for care are now receiving the scans. There are benefits and detriments to this increase:

…advances in the technology had resulted in improved image quality that can greatly aid diagnosis of childhood ailments. But the scans expose patients to high levels of ionizing radiation that can cause cancer in later years, and radiation is even more harmful for children than for adults.

The New York Times article goes on to explain that risks are low and the patients who need the scans should receive them. However, it raises an important question in my mind.

The article states that the scans are most often given for “children arriving with head injuries, headaches or abdominal pain.” Certainly, there are plenty of times when a child may visit an emergency room for a true emergency and a CT scan, if warranted, should be done without delay. But, I wonder whether there are also situations in which a child may be visiting an emergency room because of a headache or abdominal pain, which has been persistent and would likely receive a different approach to treatment if first presenting in the child’s medical home rather than an emergency room. In that setting, would a doctor, with the child’s complete history and without other emergencies pressing, chose alternative diagnostic options before ordering a CT scan. The CT scan might still be warranted, but perhaps not as frequently. I am not a medical professional and would not question the judgment of a medical professional, but generally speaking, the value of consistency of care with a primary provider seems prudent whenever it is an available option.

From a personal perspective, I understand that even parents who are the most attuned to the desire for continuous care may waiver when faced with a child in pain during off-hours. Parents who are unable to get their child to the doctor during work hours or whose child suddenly has pain at 9 pm (or 3 am) are faced with an unfortunate decision. While I certainly would take my child to an emergency room for a true emergency, I have chosen many times to wait for our doctor’s office to open in the morning rather than take them to a 24 hour clinic for a non-emergency case of extreme ear pain or similar problem. It is horrible to wait those hours with a child in discomfort; however, I know that in the morning a doctor who has the complete history of the problem will then address the problem. Just this week, I was grateful – again- that we are lucky enough to have a primary care pediatrician, who knows our child,  is comprehensive enough to care for our children, and by seeing “the big picture” can coordinate care immediately with specialists whenever that is warranted.

To me, a physician I can trust, coupled with great practice management, is essential to a pediatric practice where I can feel comfortable taking my kids.  What are some of the things you most value? What about adult primary care providers – are you using clinics and emergency rooms for your primary care or do you have and prefer the continuity of care provided by your personal primary care physician?

At Hearing on Radiation, Calls for Better Oversight

Monday, March 1st, 2010

In an article posted by the New York Times, the dangers of radiation, specifically being over/errantly exposed in medical procedures, is graphically detailed.  The article also references an in-depth investigative report that the New York Times featured in January of this year. The tragic story of Scott Jerome-Parks, is described in both articles, with many of the sad details provided in the New York Times January investigation:

As Scott Jerome-Parks lay dying, he clung to this wish: that his fatal radiation overdose — which left him deaf, struggling to see, unable to swallow, burned, with his teeth falling out, with ulcers in his mouth and throat, nauseated, in severe pain and finally unable to breathe — be studied and talked about publicly so that others might not have to live his nightmare.
Sensing death was near, Mr. Jerome-Parks summoned his family for a final Christmas. His friends sent two buckets of sand from the beach where they had played as children so he could touch it, feel it and remember better days.

Mr. Jerome-Parks died several weeks later in 2007. He was 43.

A New York City hospital treating him for tongue cancer had failed to detect a computer error that directed a linear accelerator to blast his brain stem and neck with errant beams of radiation. Not once, but on three consecutive days.

The frequency and occurrence of radiation being utilized in medical procedures continues to be on the rise.  Many leaders from the healthcare industry agree that more needs to be done, in so far as making sure radiation continues to help, and not harm, patients.  The New York Times examined thousands of pages of records, and conducted numerous interviews with healthcare professionals.  Some of the results revealed the following:

The Times found that while this new technology allows doctors to more accurately attack tumors and reduce certain mistakes, its complexity has created new avenues for error — through software flaws, faulty programming, poor safety procedures or inadequate staffing and training. When those errors occur, they can be crippling.

“Linear accelerators and treatment planning are enormously more complex than 20 years ago,” said Dr. Howard I. Amols, chief of clinical physics at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. But hospitals, he said, are often too trusting of the new computer systems and software, relying on them as if they had been tested over time, when in fact they have not.

Identifying radiation injuries can be difficult. Organ damage and radiation-induced cancer might not surface for years or decades, while underdosing is difficult to detect because there is no injury. For these reasons, radiation mishaps seldom result in lawsuits, a barometer of potential problems within an industry.

In 2009, the nation’s largest wound care company treated 3,000 radiation injuries, most of them serious enough to require treatment in hyperbaric oxygen chambers, which use pure, pressurized oxygen to promote healing, said Jeff Nelson, president and chief executive of the company, Diversified Clinical Services.

While the worst accidents can be devastating, most radiation therapy “is very good,” Dr. Mettler said. “And while there are accidents, you wouldn’t want to scare people to death where they don’t get needed radiation therapy.”

A good portion of the hearing last week dealt with CT Scans and the proper amount of radiation to which one should be exposed.  One of the concerning issues with CT Scans is the vast difference between exposure levels at different facilities.  Even within the same facility, doses can vary widely between patients.

CT Scans are only one example of the multitude of issues presented at the Congressional hearings last week.  The mandatory accreditation of radiologic units as well as the standardized reporting of medical errors were called for by some at the hearings.

The Radiation Boom – Radiation Offers New Cures, and Ways to Do Harm – Series – NYTimes.com

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

Are any of you old enough to remember the days when the shoe stores used to do x-rays of your feet so that you could get the ‘perfect fit’ for your new shoes?  Think I am making this up?  Here you go:

In the late 1940′s and early 1950′s, the shoe-fitting x-ray unit was a common shoe store sales promotion device and nearly all stores had one.  It was estimated that there were 10,000 of these devices in use. This particular shoe-fitting x-ray unit was produced by the dominant company in the field, the Adrian X-Ray Company of Milwaukee WI, now defunct. Brooks Stevens, a noted industrial designer whose works included the the Milwaukee Road Olympian and an Oscar MeyerWienermobile, designed this machine.

Shoe Fitting E-Ray Unit

For the full story, read this link about this wonderful practice.  If you look into the link,  you will see that the URL is the museumofquackery.com.

In today’s world, newer, faster, more sophisticated and more dangerous machines are in use in our hospitals throughout this country.

The New York Times reporter Walt Bogdanich is doing a powerful series entitled The Radiation Boom.’    Last Tuesday, January 26, 2010, he did a piece - ‘As Technology Surges, Radiation Safeguards Lag,’ in which he recounts a series of horror stories – unfortunately very real to those who suffered from outrageous neglect.  For just a sampling of these tragic stories, I offer you the following:

In New Jersey, 36 cancer patients at a veterans hospital in East Orange were overradiated — and 20 more received substandard treatment — by a medical team that lacked experience in using a machine that generated high-powered beams of radiation. The mistakes, which have not been publicly reported, continued for months because the hospital had no system in place to catch the errors.

Mr. Bogdanich then tells the story of a man in New Orleans who received 38 straight overdoses of radiation for his prostate cancer and a man in Texas who was extensively overdosed by a medical physicist, whose excuse was he was ‘overworked.’

Three days before this article, on January 23rd, the same reporter wrote a chilling story about a 43 year old man, Scott Jerome-Parks, who died in 2007 after receiving treatment for his tongue cancer during which the techinicians failed to detect a computer error that directed a linear accelerator to blast his brain stem and neck with misdirected beams of radiation on three consecutive days.  Read his articles for all the horrifying details – but not while  you are about to eat.

While these devices are said to be of enormous help in providing a more accurate attack of a tumor by radiation in the hands of those properly trained to use them, they also appear to be one of the modern day tools sought by many hospitals apparently not well trained in the use of these wonderful yet potentially lethal devices.

Mr. Bagdanich quotes a rather credible source regarding the dangers associated with these devices and those who use them:

Linear accelerators and treatment planning are enormously more complex than 20 years ago,” said Dr. Howard I. Amols, chief of clinical physics at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. But hospitals, he said, are often too trusting of the new computer systems and software, relying on them as if they had been tested over time, when in fact they have not.

 

In a  very recent story by USA Today reporter, Liz Szabo, we are told how NIH will start reporting in the electronic medical records just how much radiation its patients receive from CT scans and other procedures.  The rationale is simple – concern that people are receiving too much lifetime radiation exposure from medical tests.

Ms. Szabo reports that -

A study in the Archives of Internal Medicine in December estimated that radiation from such procedures, whose use has grown dramatically in recent years, causes 29,000 new cancers and 14,500 deaths a year.

A second Archivesstudy that month said the problem could be even worse, calculating that patients get four times as much radiation from imaging tests as previously believed. Children are particularly vulnerable because they’re small and still growing.

Xrays for shoes?  If we only knew then what we know now.  Can the same be said about all these diagnostic radiographic tests?  The NIH program appears to be a step in the right direction.  Another ‘right step’ might be for  the institutions using these devices to take a step back and reassess what safeguards are in place for patients undergoing treatment and/or diagnostic studies such as those recounted by Mr. Bogdanich and others – oh yeah – heard about what happened at Cedars-Sinai?