I hate guidelines (but they can improve and you can help)

A rant about guidelines (and an opportunity to help shape the future of the ILCOR guideline process)

I hate guidelines. I shouldn’t. In theory, summaries of the medical literature that are accessible to practicing clinicians could only be good. Unfortunately, in current practice, medical guidelines are too often biased, unscientific, overreaching, or misleading.

Continue reading “I hate guidelines (but they can improve and you can help)”

Neonatal (Newborn) Resuscitation 2015 update

A summary of the resuscitation of the newborn infant, updates with the 2015 ILCOR guidelines

Case

Code pink in labour and delivery, and you are the only doctor in the hospital tonight…

(This is an update of a prior version of this post based on the newest 2015 ILCOR/AHA/ERC guidelines)

The biggest changes are:

  • We no longer intubate and suction for meconium. The resuscitation proceeds identically whether or not meconium is present
  • Heart rate is monitored using ECG leads, rather than the classic palpation of the umbilicus
  • CPAP is added as an option for laboured breathing or persistent cyanosis
  • The first 30 second assessment has been removed because it was unrealistic. The goal is to just get an initial assessment and initial maneuvers done in the first minute.

Continue reading “Neonatal (Newborn) Resuscitation 2015 update”

Articles of the month (October 2015)

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

Its that time again. Here are my favorite medical reads of the last month – well, actually, last 2 months. There are some really good papers in this edition. I hope you enjoy…

1 good ECG begets another

Riley RF, Newby LK, Don CW, et al. Diagnostic time course, treatment, and in-hospital outcomes for patients with ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction presenting with nondiagnostic initial electrocardiogram: a report from the American Heart Association Mission: Lifeline program. Am Heart J. 2013;165:(1)50-6. PMID: 23237133

This is a registry study of 41.560 patients diagnosed with a STEMI. Of those patients, 4,566 had an initial ECG that was non-diagnostic. About ⅓ had converted to STEMI within 30 minutes of their first ECG, and 75% within 90 minutes. The groups were otherwise similar.

Bottom line: About 1/10 STEMIs are not evident on the initial ECG. If the story is good, get repeats.


When should we crack the chest?

Seamon MJ, Haut ER, Van Arendonk K. An evidence-based approach to patient selection for emergency department thoracotomy: A practice management guideline from the Eastern Association for the Surgery of Trauma. The journal of trauma and acute care surgery. 79(1):159-73. 2015. PMID: 26091330

This is a systematic review by the EAST group that included 72 studies an 10,238 patients looking to answer the question: should patients who present pulseless after critical injuries undergo emergency department thoracotomy to improve survival and neurologically intact survival?. Their review and recommendations are divided into 6 groups:

  1. Pulseless, signs of life, penetrating thoracic injury
    • Strongly recommend ED thoracotomy (EDT)
    • 182/853 patients survived hospitalization, 53/454 neurologically intact
  2. Pulseless, no signs of life, penetrating thoracic injury
    • Strongly favour EDT
    • 77/920 survived, 25/641 neurologically intact
  3. Pulseless, signs of life, penetrating extrathoracic injury
    • Conditionally recommend EDT
    • 25/160 survived, 14/85 neurologically intact
  4. Pulseless, no signs of life, penetrating extrathoracic injury
    • Conditionally recommend EDT
    • 4/139 survived, 3/6 neurologically intact
  5. Pulseless, signs of life, blunt injury
    • Conditionally recommend EDT
    • 21/454 survived, 7/298 neurologically intact
  6. Pulseless, no signs of life, blunt injury
    • Conditionally DO NOT recommend EDT
    • 7/995 survived, 1/825 neurologically intact

There a definitely a few issues with the data. Systematic reviews are only as good as the studies included, and none of the included studies were great. In case you were wondering, the reason that the denominator for neurologically intact survival and overall survival are different is that some studies didn’t report neurologic status.

Bottom line: This is a procedure we need to be prepared to do in the context of penetrating trauma patients who had signs of life. Even smaller community hospitals should have a plan for these patients before they arrive.


Ultrasound before thoracotomy?

Inaba K, Chouliaras K, Zakaluzny S. FAST Ultrasound Examination as a Predictor of Outcomes After Resuscitative Thoracotomy: A Prospective Evaluation. Annals of surgery. 262(3):512-8. 2015. PMID: 26258320

The criteria for thoracotomy based on ‘signs of life’ always seemed a bit soft to me. Could the omnipresent ultrasound probe help us make the decision to crack the chest? These authors prospectively enrolled all patients at their centre undergoing a resuscitative thoracotomy over the course of 3.5 years. They obtained cardiac views with an ultrasound on all these patients. In total, they performed 187 thoracotomies. 126 patients had cardiac standstill on ultrasound, and ZERO survived. If there was cardiac motion on ultrasound, 9/54 patients survived. The biggest problem with this data is probably the generalizability. 187 thoracotomies in 3 years is A LOT. My guess is these physicians are more skilled at both the thoracotomy (obviously) but also the cardiac ultrasound than I am. Might the ultrasound probe just delay the necessary procedure?

Bottom line: No cardiac activity on ultrasound might be a good reason not to perform a thoracotomy.


Some more trauma: NEXUS CT chest tool

Rodriguez RM, Langdorf MI, Nishijima D. Derivation and Validation of Two Decision Instruments for Selective Chest CT in Blunt Trauma: A Multicenter Prospective Observational Study (NEXUS Chest CT). PLoS medicine. 12(10):e1001883. 2015. PMID: 26440607 [free full text]

This is the second attempt at a NEXUS CT chest tool. This paper covers both the derivation and validation studies of the new tool. It total, they prospectively enrolled 11,477 blunt trauma patients over 14 years of age at 8 level 1 trauma centres. They came up with two different instruments: one just for major injuries and another for major and minor injuries. In the validation, the CT-All tool (designed to catch major and minor injuries) had a 99.2% sensitivity and 20.8% specificity for major injury, and a 95.4% sensitivity and 25.5% specificity for all injuries. One major problem is the validation only occurred in patients who actually had CTs (less than half of the cohort) so it is hard to say how it will work when applied to all comers. The authors think this will decrease CT scanning, but like all decision instruments, the implementation should be specifically studied. If applied to lower risk populations, it could actually increase scanning.

Bottom line: If you have ordered a CT chest for blunt trauma, you could check this rule to see if you could safely cancel the scan


Let’s do a couple papers on SVT. First: The Valsalva to rule them all

Appelboam A, Reuben A, Mann C. Randomised Evaluation of modified Valsalva Effectiveness in Re-entrant Tachycardias (REVERT) study. BMJ open. 4(3):e004525. 2014. PMID: 24622951 [free full text]

This one has been talked about a lot since it came out. It is a multi-centre, non-blinded randomized control trial of 428 adult patients with supraventricular tachycardia comparing the standard Valsalva maneuver to a modified Valsalva. The modified Valsalva was performed by forced blowing for 15 seconds in the sitting position (standard Valsalva), but then patients were immediately laid flat and had their legs elevated to 45 degrees for 15 seconds. (A video of the procedure can be seen here.) At one minute after the procedure 17% of the standard Valsalva group and 43% of the modified group were in sinus rhythm (OR 3.7 95%CI 2.3-5.8 NNT=3.8). This translated into 19% fewer patients requiring adenosine (69% vs 50%, p=0.0002, NNT=5.3). The authors say that blowing into a 10ml syringe will replicate the Valsalva they performed with fancier equipment.

Bottom line: This is a simple, free technique that might save our patient uncomfortable medical interventions. Using it until further research is done seems like a no brainer.


SVT #2: Why I never use adenosine


Lim SH, Anantharaman V, Teo WS, Chan YH. Slow infusion of calcium channel blockers compared with intravenous adenosine in the emergency treatment of supraventricular tachycardia. Resuscitation. 80(5):523-8. 2009
. PMID: 19261367

This is a RCT of 206 adult patients with SVT randomized to either adenosine or a calcium channel blocker. The dosing of the CCBs was either verapamil 1mg/min to a max of 20 mg or diltiazem 2.5mg/min to a max of 50mg. Adenosine dosing was 6mg followed by 12 mg if needed. Calcium channel blockers did a better job converting to sinus rhythm (98% vs 86.5% p=0.002). 1 patient in the CCB group developed transient hypotension as compared to none in the adenosine group.

Bottom line: Calcium channel blockers are more effective than adenosine and don’t have the horrible side effects. I always start with a CCB, and my patients have thanked me every single time for not exposing them to the horrors of adenosine.


SVT#3: More adenosine bashing

Holdgate A, Foo A. Adenosine versus intravenous calcium channel antagonists for the treatment of supraventricular tachycardia in adults. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews. 2006. PMID: 17054240

Just to complete the topic, this is the Cochrane review looking at calcium channel blockers versus adenosine in SVT. They found no significant difference in either reversion or relapse. Obviously, minor adverse events (the horrible chest pains, shortness of breath, and headaches) were higher in the adenosine group (10.8 versus 0.6% p<0.001). There was no statistical difference in hypotensive events, but all that occurred were in the calcium channel blocker groups (3/166 patients as compared to 0/171 patients.) There were no major adverse outcomes.

Bottom line: Again, similar efficacy but your patients will love you if you shelf the adenosine.


Apneic oxygenation: does it help in critical care?

The FELLOW trial: Semler MW, Janz DR, Lentz RJ. Randomized Trial of Apneic Oxygenation during Endotracheal Intubation of the Critically Ill. American journal of respiratory and critical care medicine. 2015. PMID: 26426458

This is a randomized, controlled, non-blinded trial comparing apneic oxygenation during intubation to no apneic oxygenation in 150 adult patients in a single ICU. Apneic oxygen was provided by the addition of oxygen through nasal prongs at 15L/min. The primary outcome, lowest achieved oxygen saturation, was not different between the groups (median of 92% with usual care and 90% with apneic oxygenation). There were no differences in any of the secondary outcomes (incidence of hypoxemia, severe hypoxemia, desaturation, or change in saturation from baseline.) Apneic oxygenation has been shown to work in stable surgical patients – why would it be different here? The big reason is that this was not a comparison of apneic oxygenation to apnea, like would occur in a standard RSI. 73% of patients received either BiPAP or BVM during the apneic period. Of course nasal prongs aren’t adding anything to patients receiving positive pressure ventilation. These patients are not at all like the patients I generally intubate.

Bottom line: I will continue to use apneic oxygenation for standard RSI, but if my patient requires BiPAP or bagging for oxygenation, I will forget the nasal prongs.


A 3 wish program to personalize the death experience

Cook D, Swinton M, Toledo F. Personalizing Death in the Intensive Care Unit: The 3 Wishes Project: A Mixed-Methods Study. Annals of internal medicine. 163(4):271-9. 2015. PMID: 26167721

I think one of medicine’s greatest current failures is the way we deal with death. That is a problem, seeing as death is the only certainty in medicine. This is a qualitative description of a program designed to personalize death in the ICU. To honor each patient, they asked dying patients, their families, and the clinicians to make 3 wishes that might provide dignity for the patient. The wishes were mostly simple, but profound, such as using a patient’s nickname, allowing a mother to lie in bed with her dying son, organizing volunteer work for family members, or celebrating a birthday. There were 5 categories of wishes: 1) humanizing the environment; 2) personal tributes; 3) family reconnections; 4) rituals and observances; and 5) “paying it forward”. The authors thought these added value through three domains: dignifying the dying patient, giving the family a voice, and fostering clinician compassion.

Bottom line: I don’t care much about the evidence here: This is a great idea, and if I end up in your ICU I hope this is the kind of care I receive.

Maybe a better summary of this paper is on of my favorite videos by ZDoggMD: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NAlnRHicgWs


An end to the low risk chest pain madness?

Mahler SA, Riley RF, Hiestand BC. The HEART Pathway randomized trial: identifying emergency department patients with acute chest pain for early discharge. Circulation. Cardiovascular quality and outcomes. 8(2):195-203. 2015. PMID: 25737484

This is a prospective, randomized control trial of 282 adult patients with symptoms of possible ACS without ST elevation, randomized to the use of the HEART pathway or usual care. The HEART pathway is a combination of the HEART score with 0 and 3 hour troponins. It was a relatively low risk group, with 6.4% of patients having an MI at 30 days. Using the HEART pathway reduced the use of cardiac testing from 69% to 57%, and none of the low risk group had any adverse events. The HEART pathway also increased early discharges and decreased length of stay. The two major problems with this study are its small size and the American setting. Although the score allow more patients to be discharged home in a setting where everyone is admitted, the results might be different if your chest pain admission rate is low to begin with, like it is where I work.

Bottom line: The HEART score may help decrease testing in low risk chest pain patients, but more evidence is required


PRP: All the superstar athletes are all using it, so it must work

Filardo G, Di Matteo B, Di Martino A. Platelet-Rich Plasma Intra-articular Knee Injections Show No Superiority Versus Viscosupplementation: A Randomized Controlled Trial. The American journal of sports medicine. 43(7):1575-82. 2015. PMID: 25952818

This is a randomized, double blind, controlled trial comparing platelet rich plasma (PRP) injections to injections of hyaluronic acid for knee osteoarthritis. Each group got three weekly injections of their study medication. Symptoms and function were identical between the groups at 2,6 and 12 months. Considering that hyaluronic acid has been shown to have essentially no clinically relevant benefit, this comparison may as well have been with placebo. As a side note, it drives me nuts that so many people refer to this as “platelet rich plasma therapy”. “Therapy” implies to patients that it might actually do some good and skews the process of informed choice. So far, there is nothing therapeutic about platelet rich plasma.

Bottom line: Platelet rich plasma therapy sounded good in theory, but it looks like it will be another fruitless intervention.


The “gold standard” for PE isn’t so gold.

Hutchinson BD et al. Overdiagnosis of Pulmonary Embolism by Pulmonary CT Angiography. Am J Roentgenol. 2015; 205(2): 271-7. PMID: 6204274

The patient was low risk, but you decided to order the CT anyway. Thank goodness you did, because it is positive for a PE. Well, not so fast. This is a retrospective look at 937 CTPAs for PE over 1 year at a single center. They had 3 blinded radiologists review each study, using their consensus as the gold standard. Of the 174 studies that were initially read as positive, these radiologists disagreed with that read (thought it was a false positive) in 45 cases (25.9%). This is consistent with multiple other studies.

Bottom line: We are likely harming many patients with unnecessary lifelong anticoagulation. In borderline cases, it might be worth asking for a second opinion on the read of the CT.


How normal is normal saline?

SPLIT trial: Young P, Bailey M, Beasley R. Effect of a Buffered Crystalloid Solution vs Saline on Acute Kidney Injury Among Patients in the Intensive Care Unit: The SPLIT Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA. 2015. PMID: 26444692

We have been hearing for a while now that normal saline, because of the large excess of chloride and resultant acidosis, is bad for sick patients. This is a multi-centre blinded, randomized trial of 2278 adult ICU patients comparing normal saline to a balanced solution (plasmalyte 148). There was no difference in the primary outcome of acute kidney injury (9.6% with plasmalyte and 9.2% with saline, p=0.77). There was also no difference in renal replacement therapy, ICU days, mechanical ventilation, or mortality. A few weaknesses of this study were that the median amount of fluid given was only 2L per patient and most patients received fluid prior to enrollment, a lot of which was balanced solution. The biggest problem for emergency medicine is that 70% of patients went to the ICU after elective surgeries, so these results are probably not generalizable to our septic patients who start out significantly acidotic.

Bottom line: Despite a lot of theory, there is still no good evidence that we should be giving up on normal saline.


Are delayed antibiotics truly a death sentence?

Sterling SA, Miller WR, Pryor J, Puskarich MA, Jones AE. The Impact of Timing of Antibiotics on Outcomes in Severe Sepsis and Septic Shock: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Critical care medicine. 43(9):1907-15. 2015. PMID: 26121073

People have been quoting a 7% increased mortality with every hour antibiotics are delayed for a long time. Unfortunately, this is based off a single study, and we seemed to forget somewhere along the line that association does not equal causation. This is a meta-analysis of 11 studies covering 16,178 patients with severe sepsis or septic shock. There was no difference in mortality comparing early and late antibiotics groups. Of course, all of these studies are observational, as no severe sepsis patients are being randomized to delayed antibiotics.

Bottom line: Obviously, give antibiotics if you know a patient has an infection – but there is reason to fight with administrators and government agencies if they try to make time to antibiotics a quality metric.


Turning down the heat: can acetaminophen save lives?

HEAT trial: Young P, Saxena M, Bellomo R. Acetaminophen for Fever in Critically Ill Patients with Suspected Infection. The New England journal of medicine. 2015. PMID: 26436473 [free full text]

For some reason, people just love to hate on fever. It is present when people are sick, so it must be bad, right? We better rush to treat it. This is a randomized, double blind trial of 690 adult ICU patients with a fever and suspected infection, comparing acetaminophen 1 gram IV every 6 hours to placebo. Not surprisingly (unless you actually believed treating fever was helping patients) there was no difference in the primary outcome of ICU free days. There was also no difference in mortality at 28 or 90 days.

Bottom line: Tylenol is great, but it isn’t needed for febrile patients


Dopamine is having a tough run

Ventura AM, Shieh HH, Bousso A. Double-Blind Prospective Randomized Controlled Trial of Dopamine Versus Epinephrine as First-Line Vasoactive Drugs in Pediatric Septic Shock. Critical care medicine. 43(11):2292-302. 2015. PMID: 26323041

Sure, it’s a small trial – but it was looking at small patients, so that’s OK. This is a double-blind, randomized controlled trial of 120 pediatric patients with severe sepsis comparing epinephrine to dopamine as the first line vasopressor. The study was stopped early due to increased mortality in the dopamine group (20.6% versus 7%). They also note decreased mortality when epinephrine was given early through a peripheral IV or an IO. Mortality was not the primary outcome, and the trial was small, so I wouldn’t be shocked to see contradictory results in the future.

Bottom line: It’s rare to get this kind of RCT in pediatrics – this is definitely enough for me to shelf dopamine for epinephrine for the time being.


Ultrasound for CHF

Pivetta E, Goffi A, Lupia E. Lung Ultrasound-Implemented Diagnosis of Acute Decompensated Heart Failure in the ED: A SIMEU Multicenter Study. Chest. 148(1):202-10. 2015. PMID: 25654562

This is a multicentre, prospective cohort of 1005 ED patients looking to see if lung ultrasound could add to clinical judgement in the diagnosis of acute heart failure. The gold standard of heart failure was determined by a review of the final chart by a cardiologist and an emergency physician. This isn’t perfect, but there isn’t really a better option for CHF, and they were blinded to the ultrasound results and agreed with each other 97% of the time. Physician judgement alone for CHF is really good, with a sensitivity of 85.3% and a specificity of 90%. If you add ultrasound to this physician judgment, the sensitivity rose to 97% (95% CI, 95%-98.3%) and specificity to 97.4% (95% CI, 95.7%-98.6%), translating into positive and negative likelihood ratios of 22.3 and 0.03 respectively. The biggest caveat is that these were non-consecutive patients, because there had to be a doctor around with enough ultrasound skill (>40 scans) to get enrolled.

Bottom line: In trained physicians, lung ultrasound can help rule in and rule out acute CHF.


The new ACLS guidelines are out

The multiple AHA guidelines are in this issue of Circulation

The ERC guidelines are in Resuscitation

There is too much to go through in this format. The quickest summary is that there is nothing really game changing in these guidelines, so keep providing the high quality care you already do, and don’t rush to waste your money on a new ACLS course. If you want more information, I wrote a post about the biggest changes here: http://first10em.com/2015/10/21/acls-2015/



Cheesy Joke of the Month

Patient: Doctor, I broke my arm in 3 places. What should I do?
Doctor: Stop going to those places


#FOAMed of the month

I was incredibly impressed with the capacity for knowledge translation demonstrated by the free, open access medical education community this month when the new ACLS guidelines came out. Within a week, the internet was awash in summaries, podcasts, and infographics. If my quick summary wasn’t enough for you, here are a few other amazing resources:

BoringEM came up with a great series of infographics

EMCases interviewed a couple authors of the guidelines

REBELCast came up with a top 5 list of their own

The 2015 ILCOR/AHA/ERC advanced life support guidelines (ACLS)

A summary of the new 2015 ILCOR/AHA/ERC advanced life support guidelines

The 2015 ILCOR, AHA, and ERC advanced life support guidelines are now out. This will be a brief review of what I think are the most important or interesting changes in the guidelines based on my first read through them. (I noticed some minor differences between the AHA and ERC versions of these guidelines, but nothing worth spending much time on.)

If I had to take away just 2 learning points, they would be:

  1. These guidelines are very similar to the 2010 guidelines. There are no changes important enough to warrant paying for another ACLS course. If you know the 2010 guidelines, just keep providing good patient care.
  2. As always, the science is weak. Only 1% of recommendations were “level A”, meaning high quality evidence from more than one RCT. The most common phrase I encountered reading through these guidelines was “may be reasonable”. This phrase is essentially meaningless and can easily be translated into “may not be reasonable”. Tread with care.

Continue reading “The 2015 ILCOR/AHA/ERC advanced life support guidelines (ACLS)”

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:

https://www.phenomenaldocs.com/

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!