Articles of the month (November 2016)

It’s that time again. Sure, there may be a lot to do during the month of December, but what better way to procrastinate than to grab a mug of hot chocolate, sit down in front of the fire, and read about some evidence based medicine….

(If that doesn’t sound appealing, you could toss in some earphones while you do your holiday shopping and listen to me and Casey ramble about these papers in the audio version on the BroomeDocs podcast.) Continue reading “Articles of the month (November 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 (April 2016)

My monthly summaries of the best medical literature that I have come across

Every month I select the best medical articles I have read and provide brief summaries and critical appraisals. Here are this month’s articles:

Headline of the month: No benefit from amiodarone in out of hospital cardiac arrest

Kudenchuk PJ et al. Amiodarone, Lidocaine, or Placebo in Out-of-Hospital Cardiac Arrest. NEJM 2016. PMID: 27043165

There is a lot that could be said about this paper. It was a large, randomized, double-blind placebo controlled trial that included 3026 patients in out of hospital cardiac arrest. It compared amiodarone to lidocaine to placebo. The simplistic answer: there was no difference. I am tempted to stop there, because I never thought amiodarone helped, but the data might be a little more granular than that. For the primary outcome of survival to hospital discharge, the numbers were: 24.4% with amiodarone, 23.7% with lidocaine, and 21.0% with placebo. There was no statistically significant difference, as the trial was powered to find a 6.3% difference, but the absolute difference of 3.4% in survival to discharge could be clinically important. Unfortunately, treatment with these antiarrhythmics is not without harm. More patients in both the amiodarone and lidocaine groups were admitted to hospital. That sounds great on the surface, but the last thing any patient wants is to spend their final days as a vegetable in the ICU. If they aren’t going home at the end of that ICU stay, I think this is an important harm to consider.

Bottom line: I will continue not using anti-arrythmics in cardiac arrest. However, I would not be surprised if future research found a subgroup in which they are actually helpful.

Note: Keep an eye open for a future episode of EMCases Journal Jam, as I will be speaking with a few of the authors to see how they interpret this data.

Where to go for that gush of air?

Laan DV et al. Chest Wall Thickness and Decompression Failure: A systematic Review and Meta-Analysis Comparing Anatomic Locations in Needle Thoracostomy. Injury 2015 [Epub Ahead of Print]. PMID: 26724173

This is a systematic review and meta-analysis that looked at a total of 28 studies that attempted to determine the best location for a needle decompression of pneumothorax. 15 studies were imaging based studies that looked at chest wall thickness, and found that the mean total chest wall thickness was 4.3cm in the traditional midclavicular 2nd intercostal space, 4.0 cm in the 5th intercostal space (anterior axillary line), and 3.4 cm in the 5th intercostal space (mid axillary line) (Not statistically different with p=0.08). 13 studies looked at at how frequently a 5cm angiocath failed to reach the pleural space, and the results were: 38% with the traditional mid clavicular 2nd intercostal space approach, 31% with the 5th intercostal space (anterior axillary line), and 13% with the 5th intercostal space (mid axillary line) (p=0.01).

Bottom line: It might be better to try to needle in the same position as you would insert a chest tube, but honestly I avoid this dilemma altogether by going straight to open (finger) thoracostamy if I am concerned about tension pneumothroax.

 Humans aren’t pigs (most of us at least)

White JM, Braude DA, Lorenzo G, Hart BL. Radiographic evaluation of carotid artery compression in patients with extraglottic airway devices in place. Academic emergency medicine : official journal of the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine. 22(5):636-8. 2015. PMID: 25903385

I love LMAs for cardiac arrest. No matter how slick the operator, intubation takes time, can interfere with compressions, and distracts from the real issue. LMAs are quick, easy, and provide everything we need for the initial resuscitation of cardiac arrest patients. However, a pig study in 2012 raised the concern that LMAs might compress the carotid arteries. Luckily, most humans don’t look like pigs. This is a cohort study of 17 trauma patients with supraglottic airway devices in place who were having CT imaging of their neck. None of the patients had any radiographic evidence of compression of their carotid arteries. This isn’t the strongest paper you will ever read, but nor was the study that raised these concerns in the first place.

Bottom line: Humans aren’t pigs. LMAs are great for the initial resuscitation of cardiac arrest

Experts love to change terminology, just to ensure they sounds smarter than us average Joes

Tieder JS, Bonkowsky JL, Etzel RA et al. Brief Resolved Unexplained Events (Formerly Apparent Life-Threatening Events) and Evaluation of Lower-Risk Infants. PEDIATRICS. 137(5):e20160590-e20160590. 2016. [free full text]

ALTE no longer exists. We now have BRUEs or brief resolved unexplained events. This is a clinical practice guideline from the American Academy of Pediatrics on the topic. Aside from the name change, here are some of my take-aways:

  • A BRUE is an brief event (<1 min) that occurs in infants (<1 year), now resolved, that involved 1 or more of cyanosis, pallor, absent, decreased, or irregular breathing, marked change in tone, or altered level of responsiveness
  • An event doesn’t count as a BRUE if there is a likely explanation (probably the biggest change from ALTE)
  • Choking and gagging are specifically not considered BRUEs because they usually have an explanation such as GERD or URI
  • A low risk BRUE is defined as all of: age >60 days, born ≥ 32 weeks and gestational age ≥ 45 weeks, no CPR by a trained medical provider, event < 1 min, and first event. For these children, they specifically say you should not get blood tests or xrays.

Bottom line: There is a lot of stuff here, and not a lot of it has a high degree of evidence. It is worth a read, but I will still be asking a pediatrician to review all these babies for now

Practically predicting propofol pressure problems

Au AK, Steinberg D, Thom C. Ultrasound measurement of inferior vena cava collapse predicts propofol-induced hypotension. The American journal of emergency medicine. 2016. PMID: 27090394

This is a prospective observational study of a convenience sample of 40 patients getting propofol for induction of anesthesia for elective surgery. They used ultrasound to measure the collapse of the IVC pre-propofol, and calculated the percentage collapse as: (max IVC size – min IVC size)/max IVC size. Patients with IVC collapse >50% had more propofol-induced hypotension than those without (76% versus 39%, p=0.02). This would result in a sensitivity of 67%, a specificity of 77%, a positive predictive value of 71%, and a negative predictive value of 74%. None of those values is enough to rule-in or rule -out on their own, but they might be helpful as part of an overall assessment. Of course, isolated brief hypotension after propofol might not be all that relevant as an outcome. Also, the doses of propofol used here were pretty high (mean of 2.4mg/kg IV push) and these were healthy, elective surgery patients, so there are multiple reasons these numbers might not extrapolate the the ED.

Bottom line: IVC ultrasound has some correlation to propofol-induced hypotension, but its clinical utility in the ED is not clear.

The tomahawk

Silverton N, Youngquist S, Bledsoe J, Mallin M, Barton E. 71: Awake “Tomahawk” Video Laryngoscopy. Annals of Emergency Medicine. 56(3):S24-. 2010. [article]

This paper describes a technique I have found very useful in the past. Talking recently with my friend Dr. Joey Newbigging, I realized this might be new (and hopefully useful) for some people. Basically, while the patient is sitting upright, after providing some topical anesthetic, you insert the glidescope into their mouth using a “tomahawk” grip. Basically that means you hold the handle upside down, so the blade is coming out of the top of your hand. If that descriptions didn’t help, check out this blog post with pictures. I find it very useful for visualizing fish bones, especially when the fiberoptic scope is dirty, but also because it also allows for instrumentation of the airway. Using this approach, these authors were able to get grade 2 views of the cords in 94% of the awake, healthy volunteers.

Bottom line: A useful technique to keep in mind

Lump in your throat? Sorry – glucagon isn’t going to help

Weant KA, Weant MP. Safety and efficacy of glucagon for the relief of acute esophageal food impaction. American journal of health-system pharmacy : AJHP : official journal of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. 69(7):573-7. 2012. PMID: 22441787

In this review of IV glucagon for the treatment of esophageal food bolus, they identified only two studies that had a control group. Both were negative, with with dislodgement rate actually being lower (but not statistically so) with glucagon in one of the two trials.

Bodkin RP, Weant KA, Baker Justice S, Spencer MT, Acquisto NM. Effectiveness of glucagon in relieving esophageal foreign body impaction: a multicenter study. The American journal of emergency medicine. 2016. PMID: 27038694

This study is retrospective – but given how little evidence we have for glucagon, it might be worth looking at. They retrospectively identified 127 patients who were given 133 doses of glucagon (median dose 1mg IV) for esophageal food bolus, as well as a control group that was not given glucagon. Resolution occurred in 14% of patients given glucagon, which wasn’t statistically different from the 10% resolution seen with nothing. Vomiting occurred in 13% of patients given glucagon.

Bottom line: These patients need scopes, not medicines

You can read more here: A Closer Look at Glucagon for the Foreign Body

Could you ever really have too much ketamine?

Kannikeswaran N, Lieh-Lai M, Malian M, Wang B, Farooqi A, Roback MG. Optimal dosing of intravenous ketamine for procedural sedation in children in the ED—a randomized controlled trial. The American Journal of Emergency Medicine. 2016. [article]

This is a prospective, double-blind, RCT of 125 children aged 3-18 years comparing 3 different doses of ketamine (1, 1.5, and 2mg/kg). Not surprisingly, re-dosing was higher in the 1mg/kg group (16% vs 2.9% and 5%), but I’m not sure that is an important outcome. There weren’t any differences in sedation scores, sedation duration, or adverse events. Physician satisfaction was lower with 1mg/kg (80% vs 94% and 97%). Perhaps the most important numbers were from phone follow-up (although they did lose some patients). Vomiting: 10% with 1mg/kg, 12% with 15mg/kg, and 20% with 2mg/kg. Recall of the painful procedure: 19% with 1mg/kg, 7% with 15mg/kg, and 7% with 2mg/kg.

Bottom line: More vomiting, but less recall with higher doses. 1.5mg/kg seems like a sweet spot.

Game changer for head lice?

Kolber MR, Pierse M, Nickonchuk T. The louse is (no longer) in the house. Canadian family physician Médecin de famille canadien. 62(4):322. 2016. PMID: 27076544 [free full text]

This review looked to answer the question: what is the best treatment for head lice? They found 2 RCTs comparing permethrin with dimeticone (a silicone-based product that suffocates lices). They conclude that dimeticone is superior to permethrin, with 1 extra cure for every 3 to 4 patients treated. Dimeticone also seems to be cheaper.

Bottom line: I am switching to dimeticone 4% applied once for 8 hours (can be repeated at 1 week)

Come on antibodies, leave the NMDA receptor for ketamine

Titulaer MJ et al. Treatment and prognostic factors for longterm outcome in patients with anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis: an observational cohort study. Lancet Neurol. 2013 Feb;12(2):157-65. PMID: 23290630 [free full text]

If you haven’t heard of or seen anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, this prospective observational trial has some good take away points.

  • This is an autoimmune disease, primarily of young females. It is associated with teratomas
  • It is more common than HSV encephalitis in young patients – so if you are doing an encephalitis workup, it should probably be on your differential
  • There are generally 4 phases: 1.Viral prodrome 2.Psychosis phase with behavioral changes, hallucination, amnesia and seizures in up to 75% of patients 3.Unresponsive phase with catatonia, possible choreiform movements and orofacial dyskinesia and 4.A hyperkinetic phase with autonomic instability.
  • CSF should specifically be sent for anti-NMDA receptor antibodies
  • Treatment is high dose steroids and IVIG. There are usually good outcomes if treated, but the morality is as high as 10%, so you don’t want to miss it

Bottom line: Be sure to have anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis on the differential of young females with altered mental status.

Roids vs Uric acid

Rainer TH, Cheng CH, Janssens HJ. Oral Prednisolone in the Treatment of Acute Gout: A Pragmatic, Multicenter, Double-Blind, Randomized Trial. Annals of internal medicine. 164(7):464-71. 2016. PMID: 26903390

This is a multicenter, double blind RCT of 416 adult patients presenting to the ED with gout, comparing indomethacin to prednisolone. There really weren’t any differences, either in effectiveness or adverse events. Pain was decreased by 2.5/10 at rest and 4.5/10 with activity with both treatments. About 40% of each group had minor adverse events. Unfortunately, many of the side effects that make me want to avoid NSAIDs (primarily in older patients) are also present with steroids, so I am not sure when to choose one over the other. (I would love to see some single dose dexamethasone studies for gout, just for ease of dosing.)

Bottom line: Steroids are a reasonable alternative to NSAIDs for gout

Opioids cause nausea and vomiting – so we should try to prevent it right?

One of the most common requests I encounter from nursing is for prophylactic anti-emetics when I prescribe opioids. Understandable, considering that by the time the patient vomits, I am generally off somewhere else doing something more exciting. But do they work? Let’s look at a few papers:

Lambie B, Chambers J, Herbison P. The role of prophylactic anti-emetic therapy in emergency department patients receiving intravenous morphine for musculoskeletal trauma. Emerg Med Australas. 11(4):240-243. 1999. [article]

RCT of 214 emergency department patients getting intravenous morphine for analgesia, randomized to either metoclopramide 10mg IV or placebo prior to the morphine. 1.9% of the placebo group vomited as compared to 5.4% in the metoclopramide group (p=0.0009). Yeah – more vomiting in the metoclopramide group!

Bradshaw M, Sen A. Use of a prophylactic antiemetic with morphine in acute pain: randomised controlled trial. Emergency medicine journal : EMJ. 23(3):210-3. 2006. PMID: 16498159 [free open access]

Again, this is a RCT of 259 emergency department patients getting morphine for pain, comparing metoclopramide to placebo. There was no statistically significant difference in nausea and vomiting between the groups (1.6% with metoclopramide and 3.7% with placebo).

Simpson PM, Bendall JC, Middleton PM. Review article: Prophylactic metoclopramide for patients receiving intravenous morphine in the emergency setting: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Emergency medicine Australasia : EMA. 23(4):452-7. 2011. PMID: 21824312

This is a systematic review and meta-analysis looking at whether prophylactic metoclopramide prevents vomiting from opioids. The conclusion is that there was no difference between metoclopramide and placebo.

As far as I am aware, there are no studies looking at prophylactic ondansetron.

Sussman G, Shurman J, Creed MR. Intravenous ondansetron for the control of opioid-induced nausea and vomiting. International S3AA3013 Study Group. Clinical therapeutics. 21(7):1216-27. 1999. PMID: 10463519

This study takes a different approach: it waits for nausea to develop first, before trying to treat it. It is a randomized, double blind, placebo controlled trial comparing placebo, ondansetron 8mg and ondansetron 16mg IV in patients who developed nausea after being given an opioid. Of 2574 patients given opioids, 520 developed nausea/vomiting and were therefore included in the study. Resolution of N/V with ondansetron was significantly better than with placebo (45.7% with placebo, 62.3% with 8mg, and 68.7% with 16mg.)

Overall bottom line: Vomiting after IV opioid administration is actually pretty rare in these studies. We don’t seem to be able to prevent it from happening. It makes sense to monitor for nausea, and give ondansetron only if it occurs.

Patient gone wild? Bring out the horse tranquilizer

Isbister GK, Calver LA, Downes MA, Page CB. Ketamine as Rescue Treatment for Difficult-to-Sedate Severe Acute Behavioral Disturbance in the Emergency Department. Annals of emergency medicine. 2016. PMID: 26899459

This is a subgroup analysis of a prospective RCT comparing droperidol to midazolam. It looks at 49 patients with acute agitation who had already not responded high dose sedatives (most commonly a total of 20mg of droperidol) and were given ketamine. 44 of the 49 were adequately sedated with ketamine, and 4 of the 5 not sedated were given less than 200mg ketamine IM. There were only 3 adverse events: 2 patients vomited, and 1 had his oxygen saturation drop to 90%. This obviously isn’t practice changing in itself, but ketamine is a very interesting option for sedating agitated patients because of its ability to keep respiratory drive and airway reflexes in tact.

Bottom line: Ketamine is an interesting option for managing severely agitated patients

#FOAMed of the month:

I’m going to have to cheat this month – there is just too much excellent stuff out there.

First, no matter what your level of expertise, some ECGs are so important that we need to continuously review examples to maintain our pattern recognition skills. Hyperacute T-waves are an example an essential finding that is easily overlooked without practice. Dr. Steve Smith had 2 great posts on this ECG finding this month: here and here.

Although I am sure that everyone is aware the moment Scott Weingart posts anything, if you haven’t heard his talk on OODA loops yet, it is a must listen to understand clinical reasoning in the resuscitation room.

I had to stop listing SMACC talks in this section, because they would have just dominated every month. Soon, Josh Farkas might be in the same category. For now, he had two amazing posts that immediately impacted my practice: first, he suggests an innovative way of documenting a difficult airway, using the allergy list; second, he provides some really great insight into vasopressor use in septic shock.

Last, but definitely not least, Choosing Wisely Canada has developed a number of useful implementation guides, such as “Bye-Bye, PPI”

Cheesy Joke of the month

I remember the last thing my grandpa said to me before he kicked the bucket.

He said “Hey, how far do you think I can kick this bucket?”


Articles of the month (January 2016)

Welcome to another edition of the First1oEM articles of the month – a collection of my favorite reads from the emergency medicine literature.

Location, location, location

Drennan IR, Strum RP, Byers A et al. Out-of-hospital cardiac arrest in high-rise buildings: delays to patient care and effect on survival. Canadian Medical Association Journal. 2016. [article]

This was a retrospective study looking at a cardiac arrest registry. They decided to look at the floor that you lived on to see if it impacted your survival from cardiac arrest (with the primary analysis looking above or below the 3rd floor). They found that living on higher floors was associated with an increased likelihood of death. In the raw numbers, 4.2% of patients living below the 3rd floor survived, compared to only 2.6% of those living on or above the 3rd floor (p=0.002). Survival above floor 16 was only 0.9%, and no one living above the 25th floor survived. The theory is that higher floors mean longer delays to EMS arrival, and therefore the ever important chest compression and defibrillation.

Bottom line: Choose your home wisely

 What’s the best antibiotic to bring on your trip to Las Vegas?

Geisler WM, Uniyal A, Lee JY. Azithromycin versus Doxycycline for Urogenital Chlamydia trachomatis Infection. The New England journal of medicine. 373(26):2512-21. 2015. PMID: 26699167

This is a randomized, controlled non-inferiority trial comparing azithromycin (1 gram PO once) to doxycycline (100mg PO BID for 7 days) in 587 adolescents with chlamydia infections. For the primary outcome of treatment failure at 28 days, there were no treatment failures in the doxycycline group as compared to 5 (3.2% 95%CI 0.4-7.4%) in the azithromycin group. Based on their assumptions, they could not establish the noninferiority of azithromycin in this group, although I imagine the result will vary greatly depending on local resistance patterns.

Bottom line: I will continue using doxycycline as my first line agent

 The Quixotic quest for the chest pain decision rule

Greenslade JH, Parsonage W, Than M. A Clinical Decision Rule to Identify Emergency Department Patients at Low Risk for Acute Coronary Syndrome Who Do Not Need Objective Coronary Artery Disease Testing: The No Objective Testing Rule. Annals of emergency medicine. 2015. PMID: 26363570

We would all love a good rule to use to send chest pain patients home. This is a secondary analysis of 2 prior prospective ED trials including a total of 2396 chest pain patients. They derive 3 different rules that are supposed to tell you which patients don’t need further testing after biomarkers and ECGs. (Of course, if you have listened to me in the past, you will know that stress testing is not helpful in our low risk chest pain patients.) I am not going to go into the rules themselves, because I think the study is too flawed to be helpful. Incorporation bias is the major downfall of this study. Classic cardiac risk factors are a large component of these rules, but previous research has consistently shown that having classic cardiac risk factors does not help predict whether a patient’s chest pain is ACS in the emergency department. So how could those risk factors possibly help in a decision rule? It’s because the definition of ACS included unstable angina and revascularization, both of which are subjective outcomes determined by the cardiologist, and the cardiologists had access to the risk factor information. A patient with 5 risk factors is more likely to be cathed, but that doesn’t mean the cath was necessary. Similarly, a patient with more risk factors is more likely to be given the diagnosis of unstable angina. The risk factors didn’t predict the diagnosis of ACS, they were the cause of it.

Bottom line: It is unlikely that we will find easy decision tools for chest pain patients, but for the time being we should be happy that most patients are so low risk that they should be sent home without stress testing.

 How prepared are you to run a neonatal resuscitation?

Yamada NK, Yaeger KA, Halamek LP. Analysis and classification of errors made by teams during neonatal resuscitation. Resuscitation. 96:109-13. 2015. [pubmed]

I like the idea here: these authors videotaped a total of 250 real neonatal resuscitations and reviewed the tape to determine how well the neonatal resuscitation algorithm was followed. Continuous quality improvement in our most stressful resuscitations makes sense. These authors report that 23% of the actions observed were errors as compared to the published algorithm. However, I don’t think the errors were truly important errors. The most common error was failure to have a cap to place on the child’s head – is that really essential in the first minutes of resuscitation of an apneic neonate? There were some important errors reported, though, with half of the 12 intubation attempts lasting longer than 30 seconds. Although I don’t think this study really demonstrates it, neonatal resuscitations are stressful and rapid paced, making errors probable. Mental practice and simulation are great tools to help prevent these errors, in my very biased opinion.

Bottom line: Quality improvement in your most stressful resuscitations is a good idea. 

If you want to review the newest NRP guidelines, you can see my post here.

Best treatment for pediatric gastro? Prevention

Soares-Weiser K, Maclehose H, Bergman H. Vaccines for preventing rotavirus diarrhoea: vaccines in use. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews. 11:CD008521. 2012. PMID: 23152260

This is a Cochrane systematic review of two different vaccines (monovalent versus pentavalent) for rotavirus. They identified 29 RCTs covering 101,671 infants for the monovalent vaccine and 12 RCTs covering 84,592 infants for the pentavalent vaccine. Unfortunately, most studies use the relatively non-sensical “rotavirus specific diarrhea” as an endpoint, but it definitely seems to be decreased (RR 0.33 95% CI 0.21-0.50 for the monovalent). All cause diarrhea was also decreased in the trials that looked at it, with an NNT of about 40 for any diarrhea and 100 to prevent a hospitalization. There was no change in mortality. They did not document an increase in adverse reactions, but efficacy studies often under report harms.

Bottom line: The rotavirus vaccine prevents serious diarrhea – maybe that’s an easier sell than the measles?

 Overtreatment and anticoagulation for atrial fibrillation

Hsu JC, Chan PS, Tang F, Maddox TM, Marcus GM. Oral Anticoagulant Prescription in Patients With Atrial Fibrillation and a Low Risk of Thromboembolism: Insights From the NCDR PINNACLE Registry. JAMA internal medicine. 175(6):1062-5. 2015. PMID: 25867280

With the rise of the new, expensive anticoagulants, we are beginning to see a push to get these agents started for atrial fibrillation patients in the emergency department, ignoring the tiny daily risk of stroke and the importance for long term monitoring that we cannot provide. This is a registry based study. Out of a total of about 360,000 atrial fibrillation patients in the study, 11,000 had a score of 0 on two major stroke scales. However, 25% of this extremely low risk population was on blood thinner contrary to current guidelines.

Bottom line: We over treat patients. For everything. Remember that studies are generally the best possible scenario for medications, and that results in the real world will be worse as we expand treatment to patients who would not have been included in the studies. (If you want to watch this happen in real time, just watch interventional treatment for stroke over the next few years.)


Fauci AS, Morens DM. Zika Virus in the Americas – Yet Another Arbovirus Threat. The New England journal of medicine. 2016. PMID: 26761185 [free full text]

This is a basic review of the Zika virus that is currently causing a significant pandemic through Central and South America, and has potentially been linked to a significant number of birth defects (microcephaly) in Brazil. Zika is another mosquito borne virus without a specific treatment (like Dengue or Chikungunya). The symptoms are described as a milder version of Dengue fever, with fever, myalgias, eye pain, and maculopapular rash. Treatment is supportive.

Bottom line: Another emerging illness to be aware of in the returned traveller.

The CDC has issued a travel advisory advising pregnant women to postpone travel to areas in which Zika transmission is occurring.

Can you really multitask?

Skaugset LM, Farrell S, Carney M. Can You Multitask? Evidence and Limitations of Task Switching and Multitasking in Emergency Medicine. Annals of emergency medicine. 2015. PMID: 26585046

Emergency physicians are masters of multitasking – or so we think. This review explains that most of what we think of as multitasking is really rapidly switching between tasks, and even if you are good at it, this task switching slows you down and results in error. Unfortunately, the solution promoted in most other fields – limiting interruptions – just isn’t feasible in emergency medicine. Some suggestions this review makes to help: prioritize tasks according to acuity, recognize when interruptions can be delayed or redirected, practice skills so they become automatic (and don’t add to cognitive load), and use mental frameworks or external brains to limit cognitive work. Of course, optimizing your departmental workflow to limit interruptions, especially at critical times, is also important.

Bottom line: There is no such thing as multitasking, just rapid task-switching.

 Should we add TXA to the water supply?

Fox H, Hunter F. BET 1: Intravenous tranexamic acid in the treatment of acute epistaxis. Emergency medicine journal : EMJ. 32(12):969-70. 2015. PMID: 26598634

This is another one of those situations that we have to make decisions in the absence of any real evidence. The authors of this review were unable to find any studies to answer their specific question about the use of IV TXA in acute epistaxis. However, they do note that there are a few studies that show benefit of oral TXA in epistaxis as well as the study of topical TXA that I have previously discussed in this newsletter. Furthermore, the use of intravenous TXA in elective sinus surgery seems to limit blood loss, and we all know about the evidence for IV TXA in trauma. So there is no direct evidence, but plenty of reasons we might guess it could help.

Bottom line: I have never used IV TXA for epistaxis, but use it topically all the time. You can bet if I have a patient with severe epistaxis, I will give it a shot.

 Much like TXA, I love skin glue

Bugden S, Shean K, Scott M. Skin Glue Reduces the Failure Rate of Emergency Department-Inserted Peripheral Intravenous Catheters: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Annals of emergency medicine. 2015. PMID: 26747220

Tape and tegaderm has always seemed like a rather ineloquent method of securing IVs to me. In this non-blinded RCT of 380 peripheral IVs, they compared standard tegaderm and tape to skin glue (1 drop at the skin insertion site and one under the hub – this can be seen in this video.) For the primary outcome of IV failure (infection, phlebitis, occlusion, or dislodgement) at 48 hours, the skin glue was better (17% failure vs 27%, absolute difference 10% 95%CI 2-18%). The study was underpowered to assess the components of the composite outcome, but most of the failures were dislodgement. I don’t follow people for 48 hours – but a 27% failure rate with usual care seems high to me. Also, skin glue is likely more expensive. However, an NNT of 10 to avoid another IV stick would probably be attractive to many patients.

Bottom line: Skin glue is an option for securing PIVs – maybe difficult ones you really care about?

 I love ultrasound for looking at things, but for breaking up clots?

Piazza G, Hohlfelder B, Jaff MR. A Prospective, Single-Arm, Multicenter Trial of Ultrasound-Facilitated, Catheter-Directed, Low-Dose Fibrinolysis for Acute Massive and Submassive Pulmonary Embolism: The SEATTLE II Study. JACC. Cardiovascular interventions. 8(10):1382-92. 2015. PMID: 26315743

This is a large prospective study, but I won’t get too much into the details because their primary outcomes were a bunch of surrogate markers rather than patient important outcomes. Why included it then? They used a novel device that uses ultrasound to try to break up the PE, and then gave tPA at the very slow rate of 1mg/hr. So far the lytics for submassive PE trials have shown some promise, but aren’t convincing. Alternate methods (non-bolus) of giving the medication might be the thing that tip the balance in favour of lytics. But mostly I wanted to include this article to bring up two excellent blog posts written by Josh Farkas about ultrasound guided thrombolysis and controlled thrombolysis of submassive PE.

Bottom line: My guess is that we will find that lytics are beneficial in submassive PE over the coming years, once we find the correct subset of patients and the best dose. (This is a big departure for me, because I am much more used to saying that things won’t work. That is almost always the safer bet.)

 Ondansetron and the dreaded QT

Moffett PM, Cartwright L, Grossart EA, O’Keefe D, Kang CS. Intravenous Ondansetron and the QT Interval in Adult Emergency Department Patients: An Observational Study. Academic emergency medicine : official journal of the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine. 23(1):102-5. 2016. [pubmed]

Droperidol, possibly the most useful medication I have never had the opportunity to use, was taken away because of what it could do to the QT interval, right around the time when ondansetron was coming to market. Then, as ondansetron was coming off patent, we found out that it prolonged the QT just like droperidol did. OK, I will take off my tin foil hat to write the rest of this. This is a prospective observational trial of 22 adult patients receiving ondansetron at a single hospital. They did ECGs at baseline and every 2 minutes for 20 minutes. The QT did lengthen by 20 msec (95% CI 12-26 msec), but this is almost certainly clinically insignificant. There were no adverse events.

Bottom line: Yes, ondansetron will prolong the QT. No, it won’t be a problem. (Maybe avoid it if the patient overdosed on methadone, lithium, and haldol and tells you he has a family history of congenital long QT syndrome.)

 But little Johnny just aint right

Nishijima DK, Holmes JF, Dayan PS, Kuppermann N. Association of a Guardian’s Report of a Child Acting Abnormally With Traumatic Brain Injury After Minor Blunt Head Trauma. JAMA pediatrics. 169(12):1141-7. 2015. PMID: 26502172

I’ve included papers on the low risk of significant head injuries in children with isolated vomiting and isolated loss of consciousness before. This time we will look at whether parental concern that their child is acting abnormally, in isolation, is indicative of blood in the brain. This is another secondary analysis of the PECARN database. Out of 43,399 children in the original study, only 1297 were reported as acting abnormally. Of those, 411 (32%) had abnormal behaviour as their only finding. Only 1 child of these 411 had a clinically significant injury (0.2% 95% CI 0-1.3%). Of the smaller subset who had CTs performed, 4 out of 185 (2.2%) had any sign of traumatic brain injury. So injuries were rare, even when the parents report the child is not behaving normally.

Bottom line: Once again, you have to evaluate the entire patient, not just single variables. Observation is probably a better test than CT.

 How good is the ECG for hyperkalemia?

Montague BT, Ouellette JR, Buller GK. Retrospective review of the frequency of ECG changes in hyperkalemia. Clinical journal of the American Society of Nephrology : CJASN. 3(2):324-30. 2008. PMID: 18235147 [free full text]

Remember memorizing the classic progression of ECG changes in hyperkalemia: peaked Ts, prolonged PR, flatted Ps, wide QRS, then the deadly sine wave? Well, forget it. This is a chart review that looks at the ECGs of 90 hyperkalemic patients. (This is actually a reasonable topic for chart review, given that both the potassium level and the ECG are likely to be objective and easily identified on the chart.) Only half of the patients had any ECG signs of hyperkalemia, and only 18% met their strict criteria (which meant peaked Ts that were documented to resolve as the potassium decreased.) Although the ECG was insensitive for hyperkalemia, that might not be the important question. I don’t care as much about the number of the potassium, but whether it is affecting the heart – and the ECG might be a better marker of cardiac outcomes, but we don’t know from this study.

Bottom line: The ECG is not sensitive for hyperkalemia.

 A guideline that say something sensical? I must be dreaming

Kearon C, Akl EA, Ornelas J et al. Antithrombotic Therapy for VTE Disease: CHEST Guideline. Chest. 2016. [free full text]

This is a new guideline from the American College of Chest Physicians covering antithrombotic therapy for VTE. The recommendation to know about: “For subsegmental PE and no proximal DVT, we suggest clinical surveillance over anticoagulation with a low risk of recurrent VTE (Grade 2C).” That’s right – they are suggesting NOT treating certain PEs! They also recognize the high false positive rate of CTPA, which I have discussed here before. When is a subsegmental PE likely to be a true positive? “We suggest that a diagnosis of subsegmental PE is more likely to be correct (i.e. a true-positive) if: (1) the CT pulmonary angiogram (CTPA) is of high quality with good opacification of the distal pulmonary arteries; (2) there are multiple intraluminal defects; (3) defects involve more proximal sub-segmental arteries (i.e. are larger); (4) defects are seen on more than one image; (5) defects are surrounded by contrast rather than appearing to be adherent to the pulmonary artery; (6) defects are seen on more than one projection; (7) patients are symptomatic, as opposed to PE being an incidental finding; (8) there is a high clinical pre-test probability for PE; and D-Dimer level is elevated, particularly if the increase is marked and otherwise unexplained.” The best way to avoid this dilemma all together is still to avoid ordering CTs in low risk patients.

Bottom line: Not all PEs are really PEs. Not all PEs require treatment.

 Speaking of which

Nielsen HK, Husted SE, Krusell LR. Anticoagulant therapy in deep venous thrombosis. A randomized controlled study. Thrombosis research. 73(3-4):215-26. 1994. PMID: pubmed

I may have included this one before. Its really the only RCT of anticoagulation for VTE that exists as far as I know. This is a prospective, randomized trial of 90 patients with proven, symptomatic DVTs comparing anticoagulation (heparin followed by warfarin) with an NSAID (phenylbutazone). All the patients had VQ studies performed, both initially and for follow up. About half of the patients had PEs (asymptomatically). There was no difference between the groups with regards to regression of DVT, recurrent DVT, or PE up to 60 days. In terms of mortality, there was one death in the anticoagulation group and none in the NSAID group. The only difference was that the anticoagulation group had an 8% rate of bleeding complications while they report no adverse events from the NSAID. Now this is a small and imperfect study – but quite amazingly, it’s the only real study of anticoagulation for VTE, and it’s negative!

Bottom line: In the only RCT of anticoagulation in DVTs (half of whom had PEs), there was no difference between using an anticoagulant or an NSAID. I know which I would prefer.

 You thought diagnostics was difficult? How about pain caused by analgesics?

Tabner A, Johnson G. Codeine: An Under-Recognized and Easily Treated Cause of Acute Abdominal Pain. The American journal of emergency medicine. 33(12):1847.e1-2. 2015. PMID: 25983269

I have no idea what to do with this one. They present 2 case reports of patients with abdominal pain in whom the ultimate diagnosis was sphincter of Oddi spasm secondary to codeine use. Both patients’ pain resolved rapidly with naloxone (400mcg), which is not one of my usual analgesics. But how should we use this information? I imagine that you could do a lot of harm trying to treat abdominal pain with naloxone. This is definitely an interesting diagnosis – and one that I have never seen, or at least recognized.

Bottom line: Maybe one more reason that codeine should not be used

 Back pain? Do we really have to talk about back pain? Ugh

Friedman BW, Dym AA, Davitt M. Naproxen With Cyclobenzaprine, Oxycodone/Acetaminophen, or Placebo for Treating Acute Low Back Pain: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA. 314(15):1572-80. 2015. PMID: 26501533

It’s sort of frustrating that trial after trial comes out telling us nothing really works for low back pain. Obviously we need to do something for our patients. This is a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled trial comparing naproxen plus placebo to naproxen plus cyclobenzaprine and to naproxen plus oxycodone and acetaminophen in adults with acute non-traumatic lumbar back pain. For the primary outcome of a scale measuring pain and function, there was no difference between the groups. There were more adverse effects in the cyclobenzaprine and oxydodone/acetaminophen groups. The biggest weakness of this study was that there was relatively poor compliance with all treatment regimens, but that makes it more like real life.

Bottom line: Naproxen monotherapy is probably better. Adding cyclobenzaprine or oxycodone/acetaminophen just increases adverse effects.

 Sir, you have a severe antibiotipenia – we need to start an infusion, STAT

The BLISS trial: Abdul-Aziz MH, Sulaiman H, Mat-Nor MB. Beta-Lactam Infusion in Severe Sepsis (BLISS): a prospective, two-centre, open-labelled randomised controlled trial of continuous versus intermittent beta-lactam infusion in critically ill patients with severe sepsis. Intensive care medicine. 2016. PMID: 26754759

This wasn’t even on my radar: should we be giving antibiotics (specifically beta-lactams) as a continuous infusion? I know, we all heard about time dependent versus dose dependent antibiotics in medical school, but I honestly thought that was useless pharmacological drivel, because the studies I have seen so far have indicated that dosing regimen doesn’t matter much when we are giving antibiotics. (Maybe because we are giving so many antibiotics to people who really don’t need them?) Anyhow, on to the study: this was a prospective, randomized, open-label study of 140 adult ICU patients with severe sepsis being treated with cefepime, meropenem, or piperacillin/tazobactam. They were randomized to either receive their antibiotics as a continuous infusion, or by the usual intermittent dosing. The primary outcome was clinical cure, and was lower in the continuous group (56% vs 34%; absolute difference 22% 95%CI 10-40%, p=0.011). Unfortunately, I’m not sure that is the most important outcome, and the study wasn’t powered for mortality, so there was no significant mortality difference despite the numbers being better in the continuous group.

Bottom line: Continuous administration of beta-lactam antibiotics is interesting, and definitely warrants further study focusing on mortality differences

 Want to see how quickly I can contradict myself?

Dulhunty JM, Roberts JA, Davis JS. A Multicenter Randomized Trial of Continuous versus Intermittent β-Lactam Infusion in Severe Sepsis. American journal of respiratory and critical care medicine. 192(11):1298-305. 2015. PMID: 26200166

Hold your horses. The previous study was open-label, but there is another, larger study that was double-blinded. This is a double-blind, double-dummy multi-center randomized controlled trial of 432 ICU patients with severe sepsis being treated with meropenem, ticarcillin-clavulanate, or piperacillin-tazobactam, again comparing continuous versus intermittent dosing. For the primary outcome, ICU free days alive at day 28, there was no significant difference between the groups (18 vs 20 day, p=0.38). 90 day mortality was also the same, 26% in the continuous group vs 28% with intermittent antibiotics (p=0.67). So was the previous study just an example of the bias that can occur with open-label studies, or might there be a small but real difference that these studies were just under-powered to detect?

Bottom line: This will require a massive trial to answer definitively. For now, intermittent dosing is just so much easier that it should probably remain the preferred method of antibiotic administration.

Cheesy Joke of the Month

Why did the scarecrow get an an award?

He was outstanding in his field


#FOAMed of the month

We vastly overestimate the benefits of many of the medications that we tell our patients are essential. As a result, you can hear many of the elderly coming well before you see them from the rattle of all the pills. A large percentage of emergency department visits are from medication side-effects, but most of these are misdiagnosed. So although this tool was designed more for family physicians, I think it probably has a role in emergency medicine as well


This is a tool developed by some very intelligent Canadian doctors (including the team behind another amazing FOAMed resource: The Best Science Medicine podcast) to help clinicians and patients make decisions about reducing or stopping medications. The thing I miss most about family medicine was the ‘drugectomy’: it was astounding how many patients would feel so much better just because we stopped a few of their less necessary or unnecessary medications.

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 (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”:

Articles of the month (April 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.

Troponin is king – why even send an CK?

Le RD et al. Clinical and financial impact of removing creatine kinase-MB from the routine testing menu in the emergency setting. Am J Emerg Med. 2015;33(1):72-5. PMID: 25455047

This is an observational study, looking at a period before and after CK-MB was removed from an automatic order set. Out of 6444 cases included in the study, there were only 17 cases with a positive CK-MB fraction and a negative troponin. All 17 were ultimately determined by the treating physicians to have non-ACS causes (ie, they were false positives). So, CK-MB was not clinically helpful. Removing it from the order set dropped ordering by 80% and saved the hospital about $47,000 a year.

Bottom line: We might want to keep this one in our back pocket for the next time the hospital demands cost savings – dropping the CK helps us and saves money

Speaking of troponin – high sensitivity and the 1 hour rule out

Reichlin T et al. Prospective validation of a 1-hour algorithm to rule-out and rule-in acute myocardial infarction using a high-sensitivity cardiac troponin T assay. CMAJ. 2015 (In Print). PMID: 25869867

This prospective observational study of 1320 chest pain patients attempted to validate a 1 hour rule out protocol. Using high sensitivity troponins, patients ruled out if they had trop of 12ng/L or less and a 1 hour delta of 3mg/L or less. They ruled in with a trop of 52ng/L or more or a 1 hour delta of 5ng/L or more. Everyone else was put in longer observation. It was a relatively high risk cohort, with 17% overall having an acute MI. 60% of patients were able to be ‘ruled out’ at 1 hour, and only one of those patients (0.1%) ultimately had an MI. It ruled in 16% of the patients at 1 hour, with 78% being true positives. The remaining 24% that couldn’t be ruled in or ruled out had an 18% chance of an MI – so the prolonged observation work up makes a lot of sense.

Bottom line: This could work (if we had the right assay), but I think our rule in rate for MI is way less than 17% – so this strategy could actually increase our testing and admissions without benefit to our patients 

How often to you order pregnancy tests just for medication use?

Goyal MK et al. 2015. Underuse of pregnancy testing for women prescribed teratogenic medications in the emergency department. Academic Emergency Medicine (in print). PMID: 25639672

A retrospective study using the NHAMCS database (notoriously poor data) but still raises an interesting point. Looking at all women who were given or prescribed FDA pregnancy category D or X medications, only 22% had pregnancy testing done. (I will note that this is one area where I don’t trust NHAMCS at all – there was one study where 50% of patients diagnosed with ectopic pregnancies didn’t have a pregnancy test done – but then how did they get diagnosed with ectopic pregnancy?) This also doesn’t tell us how many of these women were actually pregnant, so it is difficult to tell how big an issue this really is.

Bottom line: Are you checking for pregnancy before giving Advil to ankle sprains in ambulatory care? Should we have quicker point of care testing to make this feasible? Does it matter? 

Non-news of the month: there happen to be some bacteria in your blood post CPR

Coba V et al. The incidence and significance of bacteremia in out of hospital cardiac arrest. Resuscitation. 2014 Feb;85(2):196-202. PMID: 24128800

I ignored this one when it first came around a year ago, but I have heard it repeated so many times, with strange conclusions, that I guess it should be included. This is a prospective observational study of 250 adult out of hospital cardiac arrest patients who they drew blood cultures on in the ED, 38% of whom were found to be bacteremic. But come on, you get bacteremic after brushing your teeth. Are you surprised this happened with crash airways, CPR, and broken ribs? They note that mortality was higher in the bacteremic group, but again, in dead people as mucous membranes break down, I expect more bacteremia. This is a silly surrogate outcome, unless someone can show early antibiotics save lives.

Bottom line: Try to ignore this paper when it is mentioned over and over again in the coming years

Another one with strange conclusions

Schuch S et al. Effect of oximetry on hospitalization in bronchiolitis: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA. 2014;312(7):712-8. PMID: 25138332

This is a double blind RCT from Sick Kids, where they took 213 infants with bronchiolitis and randomized them to either have an accurate pulse ox reading, or one that displayed values that were 3 points higher than the actual value. When higher oxygen sats were shown, admissions went down from 41% to 25%. This is obvious – we admit hypoxic patients. I have heard lots of doctor bashing around this, but what this study didn’t show was that it was safe to discharge home babies with borderline sats. I admit a child with a sat of 89% because they are right at top of the steep part of the oxygen desaturation curve, and I am worried they might get worse. Telling me that the sat is 92% might change my mind – but how do we know those kids didn’t go on to have complications? This study certainly didn’t look for it. (I will admit we probably over-rely on the sat – but until someone proves 89% is safe with no treatment or monitoring, I will keep admitting.)

Bottom line: If you lie to doctors about important clinical parameters, their decisions change

Once again, forget about atypicals in the treatment of community acquired pneumonia

Postma DF et al. Antibiotic treatment strategies for community-acquired pneumonia in adults. NEJM. 2015;372(14):1312-1323. PMID: 25830421

Despite the theory of needing to cover for atypical organisms, this study is another in a long line of papers that all say the same thing. This is a large, multi-centre cluster-randomized trial of 2283 adult patients with community acquired pneumonia who did not require ICU care. They randomized months to to either use beta-lactam monotherapy, a beta-lactam plus a macrolide, or a fluroquiolone. The primary outcome was mortality at 90 days, and was statistically the same in all groups (but actually 1.9% higher in the macrolide group.) Secondary outcomes, like length of stay, were also the same. (The authors do note that during the time of the study, there was a low incidence of atypicals. However, multiple previous studies have show atypicals don’t matter, except maybe legionella.)

Bottom line: We already knew this, but are always taught differently: you don’t need to add a macrolide to beta-lactams to treat community acquired pneumonia. (Empiric evidence trumps petri dishes every day.) 

Dental abscesses are like all abscesses – antibiotics don’t help

Tichter AM and Perry KJ. Are antibiotics beneficial for the treatment of symptomatic dental infections? Ann Emerg Med. 2015;65(3):332-3. PMID: 25477181

This systematic review was able to find 2 RCTs comparing antibiotics (both pen-VK) versus placebo for apical perdiodonitis or abscess. There was no difference in pain, swelling, or infection progression at 24, 48, or 72 hours. All patients were given oral analgesics and ultimately had the definitive management – surgical pulpectomy.

Bottom line: Dental infections are one more diagnosis where we give antibiotics but probably shouldn’t

Was this patient’s DVT caused by an unknown cancer?

Robertson L et al. Effect of testing for cancer on cancer- and venous thromboembolism (VTE)-related mortality and morbidity in patients with unprovoked VTE. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015 [Epub ahead of print] PMID: 25749503

We know that cancer is a risk factor for VTE, so we frequently ask ourselves should we be searching for a potential cancer in people with an apparently unprovoked VTE? This is a Cochrane review, but they could only identify 2 studies with a total of 396 patients – so interpret with caution. Using a a specific suite of screening tests post VTE diagnosis, they did make more early diagnoses of cancer than in patients with usual care, but they were unable to find any cancer specific mortality benefit. (They didn’t even measure all cause mortality.)

Bottom line: This fits well with most screening data we have, in that we can always find more cancer if we look, but we are not good at changing mortality or quality of life (for the better)

More is not always better

Minotti V et al. A double-blind study comparing two single-dose regimens of ketorolac with diclofenac in paindue to cancer. Pharmacoptherapy. 1998;18(3):504-8. PMID: 9620101

With recent drug shortages, the topic of the appropriate ketorolac dose was raised a number of times around the department. This is a double blind RCT comparing ketorolac 10mg or 30mg or diclofenac 75mg (all IM) in adults with acute cancer pain. All three provided equal and reasonable relief over 6 hours. I just picked one, but this is consistent with multiple other studies showing 10 mg = 30 mg of ketorolac.

Bottom line: Toradol 10mg is probably identical to 30mg

We know we don’t talk to our patients – but apparently we can’t even talk to each other

Venkatesh AK et al. Communication of Vital Signs at Emergency Department Handoff: Opportunities for Improvement. Annals of Emergency Medicine. 2015 (in press). PMID: 25805116

This was a prospective observational study looking at ED handoffs. Out of 1163 total handoffs observed, 117 patients had episodes of hypotension, and they were not mentioned for 66 patients (42%). There were 156 patients with hypoxia, and 116 (74%) were not mentioned. (These numbers seem unbelievable, and if you look closer, attending docs rarely left this info out, it was primarily residents.)

Bottom line: Handoffs are important. Take a minute to review all the information. And we should probably be emphasizing this in resident education

Should H.pylori be an ED problem?

Meltzer AC et al. Treating Gastritis, Peptic Ulcer Disease, and Dyspepsia in the Emergency Department: The Feasibility and Patient-Reported Outcomes of Testing and Treating for Helicobacter pylori Infection.  Annals of Emergency Medicine. 2015 (in press). PMID: 25805114

This is a prospective cohort study on a convenience sample of ultimately 212 patients. The attending doctor was asked if the patients’ symptoms could be attributed to gastritis, PUD, or dyspepsia, and if so they tested for H.pylori and treated if positive. 23% of the patients tested positive for H.pylori. With treatment, they were able to eradicate H. pylori in 41% of those patients. At 3 weeks, the pain scores seemed to have decreased about the same amount no matter what had happened to you. For me, this could go either way. I worry about the false positives and a potential anchoring bias where we say this pain couldn’t be ACS just because the patient is H.pylori positive. However, our patients may benefit from early treatment (though they didn’t in this study).

Bottom line: H. Pylori is probably the cause of a lot of the symptoms we see, but we currently don’t have any good strategy to address that

The “rocket launcher” hip reduction technique

Dan M et al. Rocket launcher: A novel reduction technique for posterior hip dislocations and review of current literature. Emergency Medicine Australasia. 2015 (in press). PMID: 25846901

This is a case report of 6 patients, so I wouldn’t pay any attention to the EBM side of things. They describe a technique for hip reduction I hadn’t heard of, and may be helpful for some, especially if you are to short to make the Captain Morgan easy. Essentially, you adjust the height of the bed so that you can put the patients knee over your shoulder. The foot faces forward, like you might picture someone holding a bazooka or ‘rocket launcher’. This allows you to use you shoulder as a fulcrum, and lift with your legs.

Bottom line: Captain Morgan is still my go to, but its nice to have this as a backup

Another reduction technique: syringe rolling for mandible reduction

Gorchynski J et al. The “syringe” technique: a hands-free approach for the reduction of acute nontraumatic temporomandibular dislocations in the emergency department. J Emerg Med. 2014;47(6):676-81. PMID: 25278137

This technique involves placing a syringe (5 or 10cc) between the posterior molars, and then turning the syringe in the direction that would push the mandible backwards (as if a wheel were rolling forward along the bottom teeth). In this prospective, convenience sample, they were successful in 30/31 attempts, with 24 of those attempts taking less than a minute. You can do this without sedation. In fact, patients can do this for themselves.

Bottom line: I haven’t tried it yet – let me know if you do

Angioedema of the bowel: I’ve probably seen it, but I’ve never diagnosed it

Bloom AS and Schranz C. Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme Inhibitor–Induced Angioedema of the Small Bowel—A Surgical Abdomen Mimic. Journal of Emergency Medicine. 2015 (In Press). PMID: 25886983

Just a case report, but I include it because we probably see this, but I had never really heard of it. We won’t necessarily rule it in, but in recurrent abdo pain, I might consider stopping an ace inhibitor as a trial. They note that CT findings, if you happen to get one, include ascites, small bowel thickening and straightening, and dilatation without obstruction.

Bottom line: Medication side effects should be part of the differential diagnosis for every chief complaint

Old people have high D-dimers – don’t send them if you can avoid it, but if you have to…

Righini M et al. Age-adjusted D-dimer cutoff levels to rule out pulmonary embolism: the ADJUST-PE study. JAMA 2014;311(11):1117-1124. PMID: 24643601

This is a prospective observational study of 3346 patients with suspected PE (the total rule in rate was 19%), of which a total of 331 had D-dimers greater than 500, but less than age x 10. Using the adjusted D-dimer level of age x 10, they would have missed 1 PE out of 331 patients (0.3%). Unfortunately, not everyone got the gold standard test (CTPA), so it is possible they missed a few more that we don’t know about. However, if the test threshold for PE generally is 2%, and the elderly are particularly prone to renal problems from CT contrast, avoiding 331 CTPAs at the cost of one missed diagnoses might be worth it. The other major problem is that D-dimers are not standardized and there are multiple different assays.

Bottom line: If the D-dimer is less than age x 10, the risk is probably low enough to stop further testing. I use this to (and this is crazy, I know) talk to my patients about whether or not to scan

Clowns cause pregnancy; AKA completely irrelevant paper of the month 

Friedler S et al. The effect of medical clowning on pregnancy rates after in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer. Fertility and Sterility. 2011;95(6):2127-2130. PMID: 21211796

This is just too good not to include. Give women IVF, and then let them play with a clown and 36.4% become pregnant. Remove the clown: only 20.2%.

Bottom line: What exactly are they doing with that clown? 

#FOAMed suggestion of the month

If you haven’t come across it yet, Scott Weingart and Steve Smith put together a list of all the reasons for cath lab activation, including the very subtle details. There are 2 podcasts summarizing, and one very handy pdf. Also, Steve Smith is just giving away his amazing ECG textbook. All can be found at:

Cheesy Joke of the Month

Why don’t you ever see Hippos hiding in trees?
Because they are really f***ing good at it.