Avoid computed tomography (CT) scans of the head in emergency department patients with minor head injury who are at low risk based on validated decision rules.
Minor head injury is a common reason for visiting an emergency department. The majority of minor head injuries do not lead to injuries such as skull fractures or bleeding in the brain that need to be diagnosed by a CT scan. As CT scans expose patients to ionizing radiation, increasing patients’ lifetime risk of cancer, they should only be performed on patients at risk for significant injuries. Physicians can safely identify patients with minor head injury in whom it is safe to not perform an immediate head CT by performing a thorough history and physical examination following evidence-based guidelines. This approach has been proven safe and effective at reducing the use of CT scans in large clinical trials. In children, clinical observation in the emergency department is recommended for some patients with minor head injury prior to deciding whether to perform a CT scan.
Avoid placing indwelling urinary catheters in the emergency department for either urine output monitoring in stable patients who can void, or for patient or staff convenience.
Indwelling urinary catheters are placed in patients in the emergency department to assist when patients cannot urinate, to monitor urine output or for patient comfort. Catheter-associated urinary tract infection (CAUTI) is the most common hospital-acquired infection in the U.S., and can be prevented by reducing the use of indwelling urinary catheters. Emergency physicians and nurses should discuss the need for a urinary catheter with a patient and/or their caregivers, as sometimes such catheters can be avoided. Emergency physicians can reduce the use of indwelling urinary catheters by following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s evidence-based guidelines for the use of urinary catheters. Indications for a catheter may include: output monitoring for critically ill patients, relief of urinary obstruction, at the time of surgery and end-of-life care. When possible, alternatives to indwelling urinary catheters should be used.
Don’t delay engaging available palliative and hospice care services in the emergency department for patients likely to benefit.
Palliative care is medical care that provides comfort and relief of symptoms for patients who have chronic and/or incurable diseases. Hospice care is palliative care for those patients in the final few months of life. Emergency physicians should engage patients who present to the emergency department with chronic or terminal illnesses, and their families, in conversations about palliative care and hospice services. Early referral from the emergency department to hospice and palliative care services can benefit select patients resulting in both improved quality and quantity of life.
Avoid antibiotics and wound cultures in emergency department patients with uncomplicated skin and soft tissue abscesses after successful incision and drainage and with adequate medical follow-up.
Skin and soft tissue infections are a frequent reason for visiting an emergency department. Some infections, called abscesses, become walled off and form pus under the skin. Opening and draining an abscess is the appropriate treatment; antibiotics offer no benefit. Even in abscesses caused by Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), appropriately selected antibiotics offer no benefit if the abscess has been adequately drained and the patient has a well-functioning immune system. Additionally, culture of the drainage is not needed as the result will not routinely change treatment.
Avoid instituting intravenous (IV) fluids before doing a trial of oral rehydration therapy in uncomplicated emergency department cases of mild to moderate dehydration in children.
Many children who come to the emergency department with dehydration require fluid replacement. To avoid the pain and potential complications of an IV catheter, it is preferable to give these fluids by mouth. Giving a medication for nausea may allow patients with nausea and vomiting to accept fluid replenishment orally. This strategy can eliminate the need for an IV. It is best to give these medications early during the ED visit, rather than later, in order to allow time for them to work optimally.