Articles of the month (May 2017)

I took another month off, but the blog and accompanying podcast are back with what I think is an interesting collection of articles… Continue reading “Articles of the month (May 2017)”

The conversation that extended my career

We all mistakes. It’s better to talk about them.

My heart is pounding. My stomach is in a knot. I can’t think straight.

I made a mistake. Continue reading “The conversation that extended my career”

Articles of the Month (September 2016)

It’s time for another edition of the articles of the month. I didn’t come across as many papers worth sharing as I usually do, but there are still a few gems in there. The good news is it is a quick read. Once again, I will be discussing these papers with Casey Parker on the BroomeDocs podcast, and we would love to hear feedback about the audio version of these posts. Until next time….

Continue reading “Articles of the Month (September 2016)”

Articles of the Month (August 2016)

The best emergency medicine articles that I came across in August 2016

Welcome to another edition of my favorite emergency medicine articles of the month. Once again, there will be an accompanying podcast with the talented and insightful Dr. Casey Parker on the BroomeDocs website where we briefly discuss these articles. Continue reading “Articles of the Month (August 2016)”

Articles of the month (August 2015)

A monthly collection of the most interesting emergency medical literature I have encountered

Here is this month’s summary of my favorite reads from the medical literature.

Simple and brilliant: A pediatric rainbow

Moreira ME, Hernandez C, Stevens AD, et al. Color-Coded Prefilled Medication Syringes Decrease Time to Delivery and Dosing Error in Simulated Emergency Department Pediatric Resuscitations. Ann Emerg Med. 2015;66:(2)97-106.e3. PMID: 25701295

Pediatric resuscitations are stressful at the best of times and pediatric medication doses can be complicated, increasing the risk of medication errors. This group came up with an ingenious solution: single pre-filled syringes that are color-coded in a rainbow pattern that corresponds to the Broselow tape we all know and love. All you have to do is discard down to the color that corresponds to the size of the child and you are sure to be giving the right dose (best explained by looking at a picture).This study assessed the speed and accuracy of medication administration in simulated pediatric resuscitations. 10 teams consisting of physicians and nurses participated in a cross over study, so that they did one simulation with the new syringes and one without. Time to delivery of medications was quicker with the new syringes (47 versus 19 seconds, a difference of 27 seconds; 95%CI 21-33 seconds). Teams were also more accurate using the new color-coded syringes, with dosing errors occurring 17% of the time with the conventional approach and 0% of the time with the new syringes (absolute difference 17%; 95% CI 4-30%). Obviously a simulation based study is not real life – but I would actually expect more stress and therefore more errors during a real resuscitation.

Bottom line: Simple. Brilliant. Worth looking into.

The same group replicated basically the same study with similar results, but this time running the simulations with paramedics:

Stevens AD, Hernandez C, Jones S, et al. Color-coded prefilled medication syringes decrease time to delivery and dosing errors in simulated prehospital pediatric resuscitations: A randomized crossover trial. Resuscitation. 2015. PMID: 26247145

Fingers, toes, nose and hose. The epinephrine myth

Ilicki J. Safety of Epinephrine in Digital Nerve Blocks: A Literature Review. J Emerg Med. 2015. PMID: 26254284

I’ve talked about this before, but possibly not in the articles of the month. This is a systematic review looking at the safety of using epinephrine in digital nerve blocks. They found a total of 39 relevant articles, although only 12 of them were RCTs. They report no cases of necrosis attributable to epinephrine. In total, they found 2797 reported cases of digital nerve blocks using epinephrine without any important complications.

Bottom line: This was a myth. Epinephrine is almost certainly safe in fingers and toes if you think it might help you.

Physicians might not be so great around genitals

Stewart CM, Schoeman SA, Booth RA, Smith SD, Wilcox MH, Wilson JD. Assessment of self taken swabs versus clinician taken swab cultures for diagnosing gonorrhoea in women: single centre, diagnostic accuracy study. BMJ. 2012;345:e8107. PMID: 23236033 [free full text]

This is a prospective cohort of 3859 women aged 16 and over who presented to a single sexual health clinical in the UK. Before undergoing their consultation, they were asked to perform a vulvovaginal swab on themselves which was sent for nucleic acid amplification (NAAT). They then had the normal examination by the physician, with urethral and endocervical swabs sent, both for NAAT and culture. Overall, 2.5% of women tested positive for gonorrhoea (using a gold standard of either positive culture or two different NAAT markers being positive.) The self swabs were the most sensitive (99%), followed by physician swab for NAAT (96%), with the endocervical culture being the least sensitive (81%). In patients with symptoms suggestive of STI, both physician and self swab NAAT were 100% sensitive, but the endocervical culture was only 84% sensitive.

Bottom line: Self taken swabs were the most sensitive at detecting gonorrheal infection in these women

Schoeman SA, Stewart CM, Booth RA, Smith SD, Wilcox MH, Wilson JD. Assessment of best single sample for finding chlamydia in women with and without symptoms: a diagnostic test study. BMJ. 2012;345:e8013. PMID: 23236032 [free full text]

This is another study by the same group, using essentially the same methods, but this time focusing on Chlamydia. They included a total of 3973 women. Again, the self swab outperformed the physician performed swab with a sensitivity of 97% (95%CI 95-98%) as compared to 88% (95%CI 85-91%). The reported specificity of 100% is essentially meaningless because they were using the test itself as the gold standard. Similarly, the sensitivity of both tests might be lower than reported as they were not compared to any other gold standard.

Bottom line: Women do a better job collecting swabs for Chlamydia than physicians do

Overall Bottom line: If there is not another reason for a speculum exam, it does not have to be performed solely to obtain cervical swabs. Unfortunately urine testing was not included in these studies, so we do not know how it compares to self swabs.

Using tamsulosin for kidney stones? You must not be reading these e-mails.

Furyk JS, Chu K, Banks C, et al. Distal Ureteric Stones and Tamsulosin: A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Randomized, Multicenter Trial. Ann Emerg Med. 2015. PMID: 26194935 [free full text]

This is a prospective, randomized, double-blind trial of 403 adults with CT confirmed ureteric stones comparing tamsulosin 0.4mg daily to placebo. There was no benefit for the primary outcome of stone expulsion at 28 days, with 87% passed in the tamsulosin group and 81.9% in the placebo group (5.1% difference; 95%CI -3 to 13%). There was a difference in a secondary outcome, distal stones sized 5-10mm, with 83.3% passing as compared to 61%. Of course this is a secondary outcome, so should not affect your practice. More importantly, the vast majority of these people should not being getting imaged, so you will never know the size of the stone, making this information clinically useless. There was no difference in urologic interventions, pain, or analgesia requirements.

Bottom line: Tamsulosin doesn’t help patients with ureteric stones.

Just in case that wasn’t enough to convince you

Berger D, Ross M, et al. Tamsulosin does not increase one-week passage rate of ureteral stones in Emergency Department patients. Am J Emerg Med. 2015. In Print. PMID:

This is yet another paper indicating tamsulosin has no role in ureterolithiasis. (Its too bad we can’t just start with the high quality studies, rather than following the predictable pattern of a handful of garbage studies showing questionable benefit followed by a lot of time and money spent on multiple good trials that prove that there was never any benefit.) This was a prospective, double-blind RCT with 127 adult patients with CT confirmed ureterolithiasis, randomized to either tamsulosin 0.4mg daily or placebo. There was no difference in the number of patients in whom the stone did not pass (tamsulosin 62.1% 95CI 49-75%; placebo 54.4% 95%CI 40-67%.) There was also no difference in pain scores or analgesic use.

Bottom line: There is no reason to be using tamsulosin in renal colic patients.

Sticking with urology: systematic reviews are pointless if there isn’t any original literature

Hulme P and Wylie K. Towards evidence based emergency medicine: best BETs from the Manchester Royal Infirmary. BET 1: tranexamic acid in life-threatening haematuria. Emerg Med J. 2015;32:(2)168-9. PMID: 25605262

They decided to do a review of tranexamic acid use in life-threatening hematuria. They managed to find 3 case reports and 1 prospective observational trial of 8 patients. There were no controls, so its hard to know what to make of the outcomes. It is good to know that none of the patients broke the emergency medicine rule that all bleeding stops… eventually.

Bottom line: For patients peeing blood, you are free to make it up as you go.

It just might be safe to pee in the Amazon

Bauer IL. Candiru–a little fish with bad habits: need travel health professionals worry? A review. J Travel Med. 2013;20:(2)119-24. PMID: 23464720

This is one of those really weird medical myths that I heard when I was younger and just stuck with me as a true. Apparently if you urinate in the Amazon river, there are little fish, called Candiru, that are attracted to the urine and will swim up your urethra. Once there, they have small barbs that lock them into place. These authors did an extensive review of both the scientific and non-scientific literature and report that there has never actually been a confirmed case of this occurring. For some reason, that is an amazing relief to me (and I have never even been to South America). Was I the only one raised on this particular myth?

Bottom line: Feel free to pee in the Amazon, if that’s your thing.

Don’t write off those vital signs just yet

Rodrigo GJ, Neffen H. Assessment of acute asthma severity in the ED: are heart and respiratory rates relevant? The American journal of emergency medicine. 2015. PMID: 26233619

This is a retrospective look at data that was collected prospectively as part of 7 other asthma trials done at a single emergency department. In total, 1192 adult patients were included. They compared heart rate and respiratory rate between two predefined groups: severe asthma (defined as an FEV1 31-50% of expected) and life threatening asthma (defined as an FEV1 <= 30% expected). The HR and RR were not different between the groups (mean of 102 and 22 respectively). They then use logistic regression to show that only FEV1 and O2 saturation were related to the outcome of admission to hospital. Based on this, they conclude that HR and RR are not determinants of acute asthma severity. I think this is probably the wrong interpretation. They use FEV1 as their definition of illness severity rather than hard outcomes. The lack of correlation between FEV1 and vital signs in this study might equally indicate that FEV1 is not a good indicator of disease severity. (It is a disease oriented, not a patient oriented outcome.) Although FEV1 was correlated with admission rates at this hospital, I imagine this just represents the local practices of the hospital: they believe in FEV1 and therefore admit you to hospital if your FEV1 is low, even if you had no other indications for admission.

Bottom line: I would still strongly suggest assessing patients clinically, including vital signs. Don’t let surrogate outcomes like the FEV1 or peak flow rates confuse you in asthma.

Another quick note on measuring asthma severity

Huff JS and Diercks DB. Use of Peak Expiratory Flow Rate Monitoring for the Management of Asthma in Adults in the Emergency Department. Revision of: American College of Emergency Physicians. Use of Peak Expiratory Flow Rate Monitoring for the Management of Asthma in Adults in the Emergency Department. Ann Emerg Med. 2001;38:198.

Without going into all the problems with the base literature on the use of peak flow rates in emergency medicine, I thought I would include the ACEP policy statement for reference. This is an update of their previous policy statement from 2001, with 27 new studies identified and reviewed. Their summary: “The use of PEFR monitoring has not been shown to improve outcomes, reliably predict need for admissions, or limit morbidity or mortality when used during the ED management of adult patients with acute exacerbations of asthma.”

Bottom line: Peak flow is a disease oriented outcome. Focus on patient oriented outcomes.

Sepsis and the rush to early antibiotics

de Groot B, Ansems A, Gerling DH. The association between time to antibiotics and relevant clinical outcomes in emergency department patients with various stages of sepsis: a prospective multi-center study. Critical care. 2015;19:194. PMID: 25925412

This is a prospective, multicentre observational cohort study including a total of 1,168 adult patients with sepsis (although their definition was anyone admitted to hospital with an infection who received IV antibiotics.) The overall mortality of their cohort was 10%, so significantly lower than the trials of severe sepsis we are used to. In this cohort, the length of time it took to give antibiotics was not associated with mortality. Much like the prior studies that showed a higher mortality in patients with delays to antibiotics, we must be aware of the mantra: association is not causation. In the current study, the delay to antibiotics might have been because patients had less severe infections. On the other hand, in prior studies in which antibiotic delays were associated with increased mortality, we might guess that patients were misdiagnosed or inappropriately dispositioned, which could be the true cause of increased mortality. Why did this study come to a different conclusion? One possibility is simply the timing of the studies. It is impossible to practice emergency medicine these days without a keen awareness of sepsis. This heightened awareness may lead to over-treatment in general, such that the few patients that don’t get early antibiotics really don’t require them.

Bottom line: Once you know there is a bacterial infection, obviously give antibiotics. However, there are many factors that will affect the timing of antibiotic administration and it should not be used as a quality of care metric.

We should probably just install CT scanners at triage

Claessens YE, Debray MP, Tubach F, et al. Early Chest CT-Scan to Assist Diagnosis and Guide Treatment Decision for Suspected Community-Acquired Pneumonia. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2015. PMID: 26168322

I think this paper is a little ridiculous and I include it only so you can ignore anyone who talks about it (including me, if you would like.) These authors enrolled 319 adult patients with clinically suspected community acquired pneumonia and subjected them to both a chest xray and a CT scan. Not surprisingly, the CT scan found what were interpreted as infiltrates in 33% of patients who had normal chest xrays. The CT findings were used to change management, both in terms of use of antibiotics as well as decision to admit, in a reasonable number of patients. However, it is not clear if any of those management changes were actually warranted. The authors want to use this data to conclude that patients suspected of community acquired pneumonia should all get CT scans. That is absolutely nutty. If we were missing 33% of clinically important pneumonias with current practice, our morgues would be full. Either these are tiny infiltrates that we fight off ourselves (after all, the human species has survived millennia without antibiotics), they are false positives, or we catch the pneumonia on a follow up xray 2 days later with a substantially lower radiation burden. (As a side note, be prepared for a similar problem of overdiagnosis in the many studies I assume will soon be published about using ultrasound for pneumonia, even if it has the advantage of no radiation.)

Bottom line: Just say no to CT scans for pneumonia

Glue works for abrasions too

Singer AJ, Chale S, Taylor M. Evaluation of a liquid dressing for minor nonbleeding abrasions and class I and II skin tears in the emergency department. The Journal of emergency medicine. 48(2):178-85. 2015. PMID: 25456777

This is an open label observational trial with no comparison group,using a convenience sample of 40 patients and 50 total wounds. The wounds were either abrasions or skin tears. They used a cheaper skin adhesive that has not been tested for tensile strength (unlike dermabond). If tensile strength was required, a steristrip was applied before the glue. In follow up, there were no infections and only one patient needed anything else: his glue peeled off on day 3 and he had bandage applied. Of course, with no comparison group, all we can say is “Mikey likes it”.

Bottom line: Glue works in skin. Perhaps there is a role for stocking the cheaper liquid bandaid products sold at drug stores?

A simple, life-saving therapy I didn’t know about

Jamtgaard L, Manning SL, Cohn B. Does Albumin Infusion Reduce Renal Impairment and Mortality in Patients With Spontaneous Bacterial Peritonitis? Ann Emerg Med. 2015. PMID: 26234193

I always find it funny that I finished residency with a head full of practices, like PPIs for GI bleeds, that are demonstrably unhelpful, but at the same time there are potentially life saving treatments that I have never heard about. Albumin for spontaneous bacterial peritonitis is one of those treatments. These authors report a systematic review and meta-analysis of RCTs studying albumin for SBP. In total they found 4 studies that include 288 patients with limited heterogeneity and no evidence of publication bias. Only 1 trial was blinded, but with a hard outcome of mortality that might be less important. The administration of albumin (the 2 largest trials made sure to give it within 6 hours, so this might be an ED therapy) was associated with less renal impairment (OR 0.21 95%CI 0.11-0.42) and lower mortality (OR 0.34 95%CI 0.19-0.60). Dosing varied among studies, but the largest trial used 1.5grams/kg IV at the time of diagnosis and 1gram/kg on day 3.

Bottom line: These are small numbers, but I will be giving albumin to SBP patients until we see more.

Diverticulitis is not necessarily a reason to promote antibiotic resistance

Chabok A, Påhlman L, Hjern F, Haapaniemi S, Smedh K; AVOD Study Group. Randomized clinical trial of antibiotics in acute uncomplicated diverticulitis. Br J Surg. 2012 Apr;99(4):532-9. PMID: 22290281

I included the meta-analysis a few months back, but here is a multicentre RCT of 623 adult patients with CT confirmed uncomplicated diverticulitis (defined as lower abdo pain plus fever, an elevated WBC, and CT consistent with diverticulitis but no abscess or free air) randomized to either antibiotics or not. They used pretty big gun antibiotics: either a 2nd/3rd gen cephalosporin plus metronidazole or a carbapenem or piperacillin-tazobactam. There were no statistical differences between the groups. There were 3 perforations in each group. There were 3 abscesses in the no antibiotics group compared to none in the antibiotics group. 10 patients (3.2%) that started with no antibiotics were given antibiotics eventually. There were no differences in length of hospital stays or recurrent diverticulitis.

Bottom line: It may well be that we don’t need antibiotics for diverticulitis, but these patients were all treated as inpatients, so its probably not up to us to make that call.

Read enough and I might sound like an antibiotic nihilist

Matthys J, De Meyere M, van Driel ML, De Sutter A. Differences among international pharyngitis guidelines: not just academic. Annals of family medicine. 5(5):436-43. 2007. PMID: 17893386 [free full text]

I love this article, probably because it hits on two of my favorite soapbox topics: guidelines and antibiotics for sore throats. They searched for any major pharyngitis guidelines and found 10 from different countries and organizations. Two people individually coded each guidelines for all the major recommendations. The key finding of this paper is that despite all of these guidelines being “evidence based”, they arrive at wildly different recommendations. Several guidelines recommend prescribing antibiotics only if the patient is very sick or high-risk, but others suggest treating almost everyone. (If you want to find a guideline that tells you not to give antibiotics, look to Belgium, the Netherlands, England, or Scotland. Interestingly, these were the guidelines that were written by family doctors, as compared to specialists – I knew we had brains.) Not a single publication, including the Cochrane review, was cited by all the guidelines.

Bottom line: Unfortunately, guidelines are rarely an adequate source of evidence based clinical information. (Also, for most parts of the world, pharyngitis probably doesn’t need antibiotics.)

When is a clot a clot?

Morgan C, Choi H. BET 1: Do patients with a clinically suspected subsegmental pulmonary embolism need anticoagulation therapy? Emergency medicine journal : EMJ. 32(9):744-7. 2015. PMID: 26293150

What is the evidence for treating subsegmental pulmonary emboli? This review identified 2 observational trials that included patients with subsegmental PEs who were not anticoagulated. Of the total of 47 patients with untreated subsegmental PEs, none had recurrent venous thromboembolism at 3 months. It would not be surprising if the harms of anticoagulation outweighed the benefits, but 47 patients can’t give enough information to decide either way.

Bottom line: We still really don’t know what to do, but any treatment benefit is likely to be small.

Positive troponins are negative for patients

Hakemi EU, Alyousef T, Dang G, Hakmei J, Doukky R. The prognostic value of undetectable highly sensitive cardiac troponin I in patients with acute pulmonary embolism. Chest. 2015;147:(3)685-94. PMID: 25079900

This is a retrospective chart review of 298 patients with confirmed PEs looking at the prognostic value of a positive high sensitivity troponin. 45% of the group had a negative troponin and therefore 55% had a positive trop. If the troponin was negative, no patients died, needed CPR, or received lytics. Among those with a positive trop, 6% died and 9% had either CPR or lytics given. For a retrospective study, this one is more likely than usual to give us a correct answer as death, lytics, troponin, and to a lesser extent CPR are objective values that are likely to be accurately recorded on a chart.

Bottom line: It’s not surprising, but a positive troponin is likely a bad prognostic factor for PE patients.

Less relevant than the pee fish article?

Morgenstern J, Hegele RA, Nisker J. Simple genetics language as source of miscommunication between genetics researchers and potential research participants in informed consent documents. Public Underst Sci. 2015;24:(6)751-66. PMID: 24751688

This isn’t directly related to emergency medicine, but I was excited that after a few years of being “in press” the article based on my master’s thesis actually got published in print. This was a study that used qualitative methods to analyze the language of informed consent documents in genetics research. The main finding was that apparently simple, easy to understand language can be a source of miscommunication. This can occur because different people or groups of people will understand words differently. An example would be geneticists conceptualizing “disease” as an entity that may or may not cause actual symptoms in the future based on genetic predispositions, while their research participants may think of a “disease” as something they definitely have and will notice the effects of. Might this be applicable to emergency medicine? I think so, but without any good evidence. However, we know that when patients hear the words “congestive heart failure” they envision something that will kill within days – after all, their heart is failing – but this is not necessarily what we are trying to convey with those words. Similarly, we might talk about “low risk chest pain”, but different people might understand those words to indicate a 2% risk, or a 1 in a thousand risk, or a 1 in a million risk.

Bottom line: Communication is essential in emergency medicine. It is an area that probably deserves more attention.

Cheesy Joke of the Month

What is the difference between surgeons and God?

God doesn’t think he is a surgeon

FOAM resource of the month

A new site and podcast that I think will benefit all emergency physicians is:

Rather than being focused on clinical aspects of care, this site is run by Jason Brooks, a performance enhancement coach, with the goal of improving performance (both in the ED and in life in general) and making it sustainable. High level athletes have coaches, why shouldn’t we? I really enjoyed the first few podcasts.

Enjoy the free open access medical education? Think you know someone else who might? It would help me a lot if you spread the word and shared this resource with just one of your friends or colleagues. Even easier, you could also help by just clicking the like button on Facebook. Thank you so much!

Articles of the month (July 2015)

A monthly collection of the most interesting emergency medical literature I have encountered

Here is this month’s summary of my favorite reads from the medical literature.

Sick kids look sick

Vaillancourt S, Guttmann A, Li Q, Chan IY, Vermeulen MJ, Schull MJ. Repeated emergency department visits among children admitted with meningitis or septicemia: a population-based study. Ann Emerg Med. 2015;65:(6)625-632.e3. PMID: 25458981

This is a retrospective cohort of children 30 days to 5 years old who were hospitalized with the final diagnosis of either meningitis or septicemia. They were looking specifically at the children that had bounce backs. In total, 521 children were diagnosed with meningitis or septicemia, 114 (21.9%) of whom had been seen at a hospital in the 5 days prior to that diagnosis. The children all had similar mortality, lengths of stay, and critical care use whether you diagnosed them on the first visit or on the bounce back. Furthermore, meningitis and septicemia is very rare in pediatrics. There were a total of 511 cases in all of Ontario over the entire 5 years of this study. That is 511 out of 2,397,427 ED visits in this age group, or 0.02%, and you are only missing 20% of those on the first visit.

Bottom line: Emergency doctors are doing fine at diagnosing sick children. We don’t need fancy tests like CRPs or procalcitonins. Even if you miss the rare child, as long as you ensure good follow up, outcomes will be identical.

Green SM, Nigrovic LE, Krauss BS. Sick kids look sick. Ann Emerg Med. 2015;65:(6)633-5. PMID: 25536869

This is the excellent editorial that goes with the above paper. I just wanted to include a few quotes:

“A second explanation, simpler and more plausible, is that sepsis or meningitis was not present at the initial visit. The first diagnoses of nonserious viral or bacterial infections were not in error; however, after discharge these children had the rare misfortune of an unanticipated progression of illness.” Ie, don’t kick yourself too hard if you have a bounceback

“The study data of Vaillancourt et al suggest that, outside of the neonatal period, sepsis and meningitis are not occult conditions and that, accordingly, “sick kids look sick.” ”

“The status quo is working.”

“These results encourage emergency physicians to trust the power and value of their clinical gestalt.”

Dead? Kick him in the chest

Trenkamp RH and Perez FJ. Heel compressions quadruple the number of Bystanders who can perform chest compressions for ten minutes. Am J Emerg Med. 2015. In Print. PMID: not yet available

This is an observational study in which a convenience sample of 49 individuals, who acted as their own controls, were asked to perform 10 minutes of chest compressions, first in the standard fashion, then using their heel. They describe this process as: the shoeless rescuer straddles the patient’s head facing the patient’s feet, with one foot next to the patient’s ear and the heel of the other foot placed on the chest at the standard CPR point. (A video of this maneuver is provided.) Defining adequate compressions as 100-120 two inch compressions per minute, overall 16% were able to maintain manual compression at 10 minutes and 65% were able to do 10 minutes of heel compressions. Performance of both got worse with age.

Bottom line: If you are a lone bystander who will have to perform prolonged CPR, you might want to consider using your foot.

But might a machine be better than a kick in the chest?

Perkins GD, Lall R, Quinn T, et al. Mechanical versus manual chest compression for out-of-hospital cardiac arrest (PARAMEDIC): a pragmatic, cluster randomised controlled trial. Lancet. 2015;385:(9972)947-55. PMID: 25467566

This is a prospective, randomized control trial of 4471 adult patients with out of hospital cardiac arrest, comparing mechanical CPR (the LUACS-2 device) to conventional CPR. There was no difference in return of circulation, or survival to hospital, at 30 days, at 90 days, or at 1 year. Personally, I find these results confusing. Although I am always biased to assume that new technologies are not going to be better than current practice (because they so rarely are), in this case we know that the one thing that matters for survival in cardiac arrest is consistent, good chest compressions. We also know that people tire and generally don’t provide great compressions, whereas the machine never tires. Based on that theory, the machine should clearly be better. Obviously we are missing something. Maybe it takes too long to get the machine on in the first place? Maybe no technology is capable of raising people from the dead?

Bottom line: There is no benefit to mechanical CPR, so don’t go blowing your budgets yet, but they are probably as good as manual CPR, so might be useful in certain specific scenarios (ongoing chest compressions during cardiac cath?)

Did everyone invest in CT scanners when I wasn’t looking?

Zonfrillo MR, Kim KH, Arbogast KB. Emergency Department Visits and Head Computed Tomography Utilization for Concussion Patients From 2006 to 2011. Acad Emerg Med. 2015. PMID: 26111921

This is a large database study looking at CT usage in concussion from 2006 to 2011 in the US. Overall, 0.5% of ED visits ended in a diagnosis of concussion. Although you might think we all know the CT head decision rules by now, the rate of CT in concussion increased by an absolute value of 11%. Conversely, the injury severity score decreased.

Bottom line: Although I though the CAEP choosing wisely choices were incredibly weak, because they should all already be part of basic good clinical practice, I will quote their first recommendation: Don’t order CT head scans in adults and children who have suffered minor head injuries (unless positive for a head injury clinical decision rule).

Should patients on warfarin should just have a daily head CT?

Nishijima DK, Offerman SR, Ballard DW, et al. Immediate and delayed traumatic intracranial hemorrhage in patients with head trauma and preinjury warfarin or clopidogrel use. Ann Emerg Med. 2012;59:(6)460-8.e1-7. PMID: 22626015

This is a prospective observational trial of 1064 adult patients with blunt head trauma on either warfarin (768 patients) or clopidogrel (296 patients) designed to look for delayed intracranial hemorrhage. These were patients with relatively minor trauma, mostly ground level falls, and 88% having a GCS of 15 at the time of examination. 7% had a bleed on the first scan (12% if on clopidogrel and 5% on warfarin). No patients on clopidogrel and 4/687 (0.6% 95%CI 0.2-1.5%) of patients on warfarin had a delayed intracranial hemorrhage. The major limitation of this study is that not everyone had CT scans.

Bottom line: The rate of delayed intracranial hemorrhage after a normal CT is low. It almost certainly doesn’t warrant routine repeat scans or admissions, but good patient instructions and follow up are reasonable.

Diltiazem over metoprolol for atrial fibrillation. Surprised?

Fromm C, Suau SJ, Cohen V, et al. Diltiazem vs. Metoprolol in the Management of Atrial Fibrillation or Flutter with Rapid Ventricular Rate in the Emergency Department. J Emerg Med. 2015. PMID: 25913166

This is a randomized, double-blind study comparing metoprolol (0.15mg/kg) and diltiazem (0.25mg/kg) in 106 adult patients with atrial fibrillation. The primary outcome of HR<100 at 30 minutes was achieved in 95.8% of the diltiazem group and 46.4% of the metoprolol group (p<0.0001). Diltiazem was better at all time points measured. There was no difference between in groups in term of adverse outcomes (hypotension or bradycardia).

Bottom line: Another small trial illustrating that calcium channel blockers are probably more effective than beta-blockers at controlling atrial fibrillation in the ED.

This doesn’t change anything: Asymptomatic hypertension still shouldn’t be treated in the ED

Levy PD, Mahn JJ, Miller J, et al. Blood pressure treatment and outcomes in hypertensive patients without acute target organ damage: a retrospective cohort. Am J Emerg Med. 2015. PMID: 26087706

A retrospective cohort of 1016 adult patients with a blood pressure greater than 180/110 and no signs or symptoms of acute organ damage. About 43% were given some kind of treatment, and there was no difference in ED revisits or mortality whether you were treated or not. Of course, this type of association doesn’t prove anything – maybe there was a reason some people were treated and others weren’t.

Bottom line: We still shouldn’t be treating (or working up) asymptomatic hypertension in the ED.

On that note, I might as well include the ACEP clinical policy:

Wolf SJ, Lo B, Shih RD, et al. American College of Emergency Physicians Clinical Policies Committee. Clinical policy: critical issues in the evaluation and management of adult patients in the emergency department with asymptomatic elevated blood pressure. Ann Emerg Med. 2013 Jul;62(1):59-68. PMID: 23842053

A few points from this policy (the policy contains only level C recommendations):

1) In ED patients with asymptomatic markedly elevated blood pressure, routine screening for acute target organ injury (eg, serum creatinine, urinalysis, ECG) is not required.

2) In patients with asymptomatic markedly elevated blood pressure, routine ED medical intervention is not required

Bottom line: (Cut and paste from above). We still shouldn’t be treating (or working up) asymptomatic hypertension in the ED.

We no communicate so good

Newman DH, Ackerman B, Kraushar ML, et al. Quantifying Patient-Physician Communication and Perceptions of Risk During Admissions for Possible Acute Coronary Syndromes. Ann Emerg Med. 2015;66:(1)13-18.e1. PMID: 25748480

This is a great paper by David Newman. They did paired surveys of patients being admitted to rule out ACS and their treating physicians to determine if patients and their physicians were on the same page with regards to the risk of MI (the reason the patient was being admitted). After having a conversation about admission, the patient and physician estimates of risk were only within 10% of each other 36% of the time. When asked about the chance of dying if an MI occurred at home, patients estimated the mortality at 80% compared to physicians estimates at 10%.

Bottom line: We do a poor job communicating to patients why we want to admit them to hospital. Without an understanding of their risk, patients cannot possibly make informed decisions that account for their own values and personal risk tolerance.

If you aren’t using bedside ultrasound, you probably also won’t be able to find this post on the internet, but congratulations on your upcoming retirement…

Stein JC, Wang R, Adler N, et al. Emergency physician ultrasonography for evaluating patients at risk for ectopic pregnancy: a meta-analysis. Ann Emerg Med. 2010;56:(6)674-83. PMID: 20828874

This is a systematic review and meta-analysis that includes 10 studies of 2057 patients looking at the accuracy of emergency physician performed ultrasound for ectopic pregnancy. The sensitivity (patients with an ectopic who had no IUP on ultrasound) was 99.3%, with a negative predictive value of 99.9% in this population with a 7.5% incidence of ectopic pregnancy.

Bottom line: Bedside ultrasound is excellent for ruling out ectopic.

Whats the best way to keep a cast dry?

McDowell M, Nguyen S, Schlechter J. A Comparison of Various Contemporary Methods to Prevent a Wet Cast. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2014;96:(12)e99. PMID: 24951750

This non blinded trial compared six methods of keeping casts dry. There were 2 commercial products, compared to a plastic bag with duct tape, double plastic bags with duct tape, a plastic bag with a rubber band, or glad cling wrap. The weighed the cast after submerging in water for 2 minutes (so more intense than a shower) to determine water absorption. Plastic wrap and a single bag with duct tape were the least effective. A double bag with duct tape was 100% effective, as were the commercial products.

Bottom line: Of easily available methods, double plastic bags and duct tape are probably the best for showering with a cast.

Everything you could ever want to know about anal fissures

Nelson RL, Thomas K, Morgan J, Jones A. Non surgical therapy for anal fissure. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012;2:CD003431. PMID: 22336789

This cochrane systematic review of the medical management of anal fissures covers 75 trials and 5031 patients of different medical therapies. Topical nitroglycerin increased early cure rates from about 35% to 49% compared to placebo, an NNT of 7, but about half of patients had late relapses. No conclusions can be made about calcium channel blockers or botox, because all studies were severely under-powered. Surgical therapy (which I have never referred for) was significantly better than any medical therapy, but does have a small risk of incontinence.

Bottom line: There is poor evidence for any medical therapy. In patients with chronic problems, surgical therapy should be considered.

Your kid rolled in poison ivy – what do you do?

Stibich AS, Yagan M, Sharma V, Herndon B, Montgomery C. Cost-effective post-exposure prevention of poison ivy dermatitis. Int J Dermatol. 2000;39:(7)515-8. PMID: 10940115

I didn’t know that you could prophylactically treat poison ivy after coming into contact with the plant, but before developing a rash. 20 healthy “volunteer” medical students were used them as their own controls. They exposed the students to poison ivy at 4 different spots. 2 hours later, the applied 0.5ml of either dial dish soap, Tecnu (a commercial product designed to chemically inactivate poison ivy), or Goop (a commercial cleaning product), and then rinsed the skin. They left the 4th area untouched as a control (but for some reason didn’t even rinse it off – just left it covered.) All three products were similar, but seem to decrease severity of the rash as compared to control. Ii was unclear if the study was blinded in any way.

Bottom line: If you touch poison ivy, it may be worth putting dish soap on the area and then cleaning thoroughly.

Lidocaine for limb pain – no, not a nerve block

Vahidi E, Shakoor D, Aghaie Meybodi M, Saeedi M. Comparison of intravenous lidocaine versus morphine in alleviating pain in patients with critical limb ischaemia. Emerg Med J. 2015;32:(7)516-9. PMID: 25147364

Like low dose ketamine, although to a lesser extent, I have heard a lot about using IV lidocaine for pain control this past year. This is a small RCT of 40 patients with ischemic limbs comparing IV morphine (0.1mg/kg) and IV lidocaine (2mg/kg). In patients with pain starting at 7.5/10, pain in the lidocaine group was better at 15 minutes (5.75/10 vs 7/10) and 30 minutes (4.25/10 versus 6.5/10), although those numbers may not be clinically significant.

Bottom line: Intravenous lidocaine may be an option for pain, but I am not sure when or why I would use it.

There is no such thing is a free lunch

Solomon RC. Coffers brimming, ethically bankrupt. Ann Emerg Med. 2012;59:(2)101-2. PMID: 22078890

An older editorial, but worth a read. The summary is that although we make a lot of excuses for why we take money from drug companies, none are any good. As individuals and as a group, we must just stop.

Bottom line: I will say it again. There is no such thing as a free lunch.

Patient with a PE – do you admit, send them home, or get them to the gym?

Lakoski SG, Savage PD, Berkman AM, et al. The safety and efficacy of early-initiation exercise training after acute venous thromboembolism: a randomized clinical trial. J Thromb Haemost. 2015;13:(7)1238-44. PMID: 25912176

A very small randomized, controlled trial that included 19 patients with PE, 9 of whom were randomized to a 3 month program including exercise and weight loss. They commit a cardinal sin by claiming to have multiple primary outcomes, but it looks like the exercise group lost weight and was more fit as compared to the usual care group. Of course, a grain or two of salt is required, but it looks like an interesting area for future research.

Bottom line: In the future, we may seen an equivalent to cardiac rehab for our PE patients. For now, I recommend all my patients exercise.

Completely irrelevant to medicine, but maybe the most useful information of the month: flight delays

When to fly to get there on time? Six million flights analyzed. Decision Science News. 2015.

This is a database study that looked at all the flight data in the United States for the year of 2013 to determine when you are most likely to be delayed. Not surprisingly, the later your flight is in the day, the longer a delay you can expect, until about 10pm, when the delays start to fall again. There are some graphs you can look at.

Bottom line: For the next conference you book (like say SMACC in Dublin next year), try to book your flight early in the morning if you don’t want to be delayed.

Cheesy Joke of the Month

Why can’t you tell when a pterodactyl is going to the bathroom?

Because their P is silent

FOAMed of the month

The world of critical care and open access medical education suffered an incredible loss this month with the passing of Dr. John Hinds. He was one of the most inspirational individuals I have encountered in my life, and although I only shook his hand a single time, his words have forever changed me.

It is hard to pick just one of this many incredible talks, but I know both my wife and I were blown away by his keynote speech at the SMACC conference in Chicago: “Crack the chest and get crucified”:

Breaking bad news: Notifying family members of a death in the emergency department

A basic approach to communicating the news of the death of a family member


A 50 year old man is brought into your emergency department after an unwitnessed cardiac arrest. You follow the simplified approach to PEA, but are unable to identify a reversible cause. Unfortunately, you never regain a pulse and pronounce the patient dead. Your charge nurse tells you, “the family has just arrived – they are waiting for you in the quiet room”…

Continue reading “Breaking bad news: Notifying family members of a death in the emergency department”