Restraints and Self-Injury

A few weeks ago, I received a request from a psychiatry resident working at a state prison about the use of restraints with patients who engage in severe self-injury.  He was looking for guidance on the use of physical restraints with this population in prison.  He noted that his role of ordering and monitoring patients in restraints caused him to feel more like a provider for the facility, rather than for the patient.  I shared with him with the best resources I know – Resource Document on the Use of Restraint and Seclusion in Correctional Mental Health Care (http://jaapl.org/content/35/4/417) as well as Dr. Applebaum’s commentary on the same (http://jaapl.org/content/jaapl/35/4/431.full.pdf). As I sat down to write this, I intended to discuss the rules and regulations surrounding restraint (e.g., Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) 42 CFR § 482.13) but I stopped myself.

The inquiry was not about regulations and requirements for the use of restraints.  The question was about patient care. 

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Mental Health Screening – Set Up for Success

It was a holiday weekend in the middle of the night.  The booking area of the jail was a big, open, noisy pit with people sitting in plastic chairs, watching TV or on phones and the officers either behind desks or circling the perimeter. It was filling up.  A staff member was completing initial mental health screenings in a corner of the open room, up on a platform and behind a computer.  She had the electronic health record open to the mental health screening form and she was going through each “yes/no” question, reading from the computer screen and not looking at the recently arrested individual, a young man picked up on a possession charge.

“Are you currently taking any medications for mental health problems?”  “No.”

“Have you ever been hospitalized for mental health reasons?”  “No.”

“Are you currently thinking about hurting or killing yourself?”  Pause. Swallow.  “No.”

“Have you ever been treated for withdrawal from drugs or alcohol?” “No.”

She missed it.  She missed the pause; she missed the swallow.

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A Better Way to Drain Abscesses: The Berlin Technique

One of the consequences of the heroin epidemic we all are experiencing is a marked increase in the number of skin abscesses presenting to the jail medical clinics.  Jails have always had to deal with skin abscesses.  In fact, the single most popular JailMedicine post has been the Photographic Tutorial on Abscess I&D (found here).  But since the heroin epidemic, the number of skin abscess we see has exploded.  It is not unusual nowadays to lance an abscess every day!

The reason for this big increase in skin infections, of course, is that heroin users tend to share needles to shoot up, and these dirty needles leave behind the bugs that cause abscesses.  And since shooting up causes the abscesses, they tend to be found where addicts commonly shoot up–like the inner elbow, the forearm and even overlying the jugular veins of the neck.

Fortunately, just in time for this onslaught of abscesses, my good friend Neelie Berlin PA taught me a new method of lancing simple abscesses that is quicker and easier—yet just as effective—as the method I had been using for my entire career. I’m going to call this new method of draining abscesses “The Berlin Method.”

Who says you can’t teach an old Doc new tricks?  I have wholeheartedly gone over to the Berlin procedure.  It is THE method I use now to drain simple abscesses.

Today’s JailMedicine post is a pictographic tutorial on how to do this new easier method of lancing simple abscesses. Continue reading

Do Uncomplicated Lacerations Need To Be Closed Within Six Hours?

Dr. Keller,
What do you think of the rule for lacerations that says a laceration has to be sutured within six hours or it cannot be sutured at all? At our facility, we send lots of inmates to the ER for simple cuts because the PA isn’t scheduled to be at the facility until the next day. If a cut is 10 hours old, why can’t it be fixed?  Where did this rule come from?
Kim A.

Thanks for the question, Kim. The short answer to this question is that that this belief is a myth. Uncomplicated lacerations can, indeed, wait more than 6 hours to be repaired.

“There is a common misconception that all wounds must be either sutured within a few hours or left open and relegated to slow healing and an unsightly scar.”  Roberts and Hedges’ Clinical Procedures in Emergency MedicineUnknown

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Removing Microdermal Implants, A Photographic Tutorial

A couple of years ago, I first started to see microdermal implants in my jail patients.  This is, of course, jewelry that is implanted in the skin.  These have become so popular as to be almost universal.  If you work in a jail or prison (or even if you have looked around at your local grocery store), you certainly have seen these.  Microdermal implants can be problematic in correctional settings, because they cannot be easily removed like the older bolts and rings.  Microdermal implants are imbedded in the skin, and removal requires making an incision to extract them.

But in corrections, even though it is difficult, microdermal implants often must be removed, either as a security issue or because the patient requests that they be removed.  Nowadays, these implants are so common that all correctional practitioners really should know how to deal with microdermal jewelry.  But most of us were never taught how to do this in our training!  I certainly never learned about these in my residency training.  Such a thing would have been inconceivable back then.   Cutting edge fashion in those days was long hair and grungy jeans!

So I was grateful when an opportunity for education presented itself recently.   A friend of mine asked me if I would remove two of her micro dermal implants and kindly consented to have the procedure photographed.  Todays JailMedicine post is a photographic tutorial on how to remove microdermal implants.IMG_0793 Continue reading

Book Review: Correctional Health Care Patient Safety Handbook

If you’ve ever gone looking for books, articles, or–well anything! written about correctional medicine, you will quickly notice that there really isn’t very much out there. The specialty of correctional medicine is in its infancy. You can count the number of published books about the subject on less than two hands.

So a day in which a new book about correctional medicine is published is always a good day. And if by chance that book also happens to be well written and truly useful, well, that’s a true bonus and time for celebration.

Lorry Schoenly has written such a book that I recommend for all of us who practice in jails and prisons. This is a book that has universal applicability, whether you are a nurse, a practitioner, a mental health provider or an administrator. The name of the book is Correctional Health Care Patient Safety Handbook. You should read this book!3DBook Continue reading

Ammonia Capsules Are a Great Tool for Assessing Pseudoseizures

The question of whether a seizure-like event is a true epileptic seizure or some type of pseudoseizure is often very hard to sort out. Oftentimes (in fact, most of the time) these events do not happen in front of us. We just hear reports from the deputies of “something happening–looked like a seizure.” Or perhaps the patient himself will tell us that he had an seizure, like the patient I saw recently who told me “I’ve had four seizures this week.” Of course all of them were un-witnessed by anyone else.

Even though you might suspect that these un-witnessed seizure-like events are pseudoseizures, you should be very cautious about labeling such events “fake.” The absolute worst mistake that you as a medical provider can make in these cases is to declare an event “fake”—and be wrong. Until you are very sure, it is better to assume that un-witnessed events are real–or at least keep that possibility in the forefront of your mind. Until you have more evidence, you just don’t know for sure.

That is why it is so valuable when a patient has one of these seizure-like events right in front of you. This is the one opportunity to use objective findings to distinguish a true epileptic seizure from a pseudoseizure. I discussed in my last post the various differences in presentation between epileptic seizures and pseudoseizures, such as the nature of the shaking, eye deviation and a post-ictal period. Unfortunately, however, none of these findings are perfect.040 Continue reading

Pseudoseizures–Achieving Accurate Diagnosis

You are called by jail deputies to see a patient who had a short seizure and now is having another. The patient has only been in jail for a couple of days. He did not mention a seizure disorder at booking. He was arrested on a meth charge.

When you arrive, the patient is on the floor of the dorm, unresponsive and twitching. What do you do?

The diagnostic problem here is whether this is a true epileptic seizure or whether this is one of the various kinds of pseudoseizure. Accurate diagnosis is important because the treatment for the two conditions is so different.

Two epileptic seizures in short succession should make you think about status epilepticus and calling an ambulance. Even if the seizure stopped and you didn’t send this patient to the hospital, you would want a detailed examination in clinic to determine why these seizures happened. Is this a manifestation of some type of withdrawal, such as alcohol withdrawal? Does he have a seizure disorder that he did not tell you about before? You might consider a benzodiazepine like Ativan acutely and an anti-seizure drug like phenytoin. Down the road, you might want to do a work up, such as blood work, an EEG and maybe even a specialist referral.

On the other hand, if this is a seizure look-alike such as a Psychogenic Non-Epileptic Seizure (PNES), your treatment algorhythm would look much different. Then, your goal is just to stop the event and hopefully, be able to intervene in some way (counseling?) to prevent these from happening in the future. No ER visit. No seizure drugs. No EEG etc.

To get the diagnosis wrong—either way—would be to treat the patient inappropriately and perhaps even to harm the patient. So, accurate diagnosis is paramount.

It turns out that there are several observations, “field tests” and tools that can be useful in differentiating true epileptic seizures from pseudoseizures. There are even lab tests that can be useful! Some of these are much more reliable and accurate than others and I will point these out. Continue reading

Ingrown Toenail Removal: A Pictographic Tutorial

Ingrown toenails are a common presenting complaint in my jail medical clinics, just as they were when I worked in the ER back-in-the-day. Of course, not all toe infections are due to an ingrown toenail (which I will talk about later), but when an ingrown toenail is present, removal of the ingrown nail spicula is instantly curative. And unless you remove the ingrown toenail, the toe usually will just smolder along and not get better. So knowing how to properly remove a toenail is a great and useful thing.

However, I have heard that some Correctional Practitioners are unfamiliar and uncomfortable with the procedure of toenail removal and so when faced with a nail that needs to come off, they instead:  1. Leave the nail on to fester, 2. Over-prescribe unnecessary antibiotics, or 3. Send correctional patients to a foot surgeon to have this simple procedure done. All of these are poor medical practice, in my opinion.

Like abscess I&D that I have written about previously, toenail removal seems to be a daunting procedure, but actually is quite simple. Of course, any medical procedure can be done incorrectly or inefficiently. Today’s JailMedicine post is a tutorial on how to cure ingrown nails by performing a simple toenail removal. Continue reading