Articles of the month (May 2017)

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

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.

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:

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:

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

Articles of the month (August 2015)

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

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

Simple and brilliant: A pediatric rainbow

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

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

Bottom line: Simple. Brilliant. Worth looking into.

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

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

Fingers, toes, nose and hose. The epinephrine myth

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

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

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

Physicians might not be so great around genitals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just in case that wasn’t enough to convince you

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It just might be safe to pee in the Amazon

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

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

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

Don’t write off those vital signs just yet

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

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

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

Another quick note on measuring asthma severity

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

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

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

Sepsis and the rush to early antibiotics

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

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

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

We should probably just install CT scanners at triage

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

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

Bottom line: Just say no to CT scans for pneumonia

Glue works for abrasions too

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diverticulitis is not necessarily a reason to promote antibiotic resistance

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

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

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

Read enough and I might sound like an antibiotic nihilist

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

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

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

When is a clot a clot?

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

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

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

Positive troponins are negative for patients

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

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

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

Less relevant than the pee fish article?

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

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

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

Cheesy Joke of the Month

What is the difference between surgeons and God?

God doesn’t think he is a surgeon

FOAM resource of the month

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

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

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

Articles of the Month (June 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.

A simple clinical test to rule out PE? (Yeah right)

Amin Q, Perry JJ, Stiell IG, Mohapatra S, Alsadoon A, Rodger M. Ambulatory vital signs in the workup of pulmonary embolism using a standardized 3-minute walk test. CJEM. 2015;17:(3)270-8. PMID: 26034913

I love this study, although unfortunately it isn’t useful for clinical practice. It is a prospective cohort study of 114 patients, either in an ED or a thrombosis clinic, who were suspected of or had newly confirmed PE. They had patients walk for 3 minutes, and then measured heart rate and oxygen saturation. An increase in HR >10 had a sensitivity of 96.6% and a specificity of 31% for PE. A drop in O2 sat ≥2% had a sensitivity of 90.2% and a specificity of 39.3%. The combination of both had a sensitivity of 100% (95% CI 87-100) and a specificity of 11% (95% CI 6-21).

Bottom line: Although vitals signs seem to change in PE patients when walking, this is a pilot study and isn’t ready for prime time. The horrible specificity of this test may render it clinically useless.

We miss very few MIs, no matter what people want to tell you

Weinstock MB, Weingart S, Orth F, et al. Risk for Clinically Relevant Adverse Cardiac Events in Patients With Chest Pain at Hospital Admission. JAMA Intern Med. 2015. PMID: 25985100

A bunch of big names on this one: David Newman, Scott Weingart, Michael Weinstock. This is a retrospective review, with decent methods, looking at 11,230 patients admitted for an ACS rule out, but who had 2 normal troponins in the ED. In total, 20 of those patients (0.18%; 95%CI 0.11-0.27) had any of: an arrhythmia, STEMI, cardiac arrest, or death during their hospitalization. If you exclude patients with abnormal vital signs or abnormal ECGs, only 4 out of 7266 (0.06%; 95%CI 0.02-0.14%) patients had any of those outcomes.

Bottom line: If you are ruled out by biomarkers and ECG, you are probably ruled out as well as we will ever be able to accomplish.

Patient oriented outcomes: PPIs don’t improve any of them

Cabot JC, Shah K. Are proton-pump inhibitors effective treatment for acute undifferentiated upper gastrointestinal bleeding? Ann Emerg Med. 2014;63:(6)759-60. PMID: 24199839

I know we just talked about the use of PPIs in GI bleeds, but I will throw this in as a bit of staged repetition. This is one of the Annal’s systematic review snap shot series, covering the Cochrane review of the same topic. I will quote: “In conclusion, this systematic review does not demonstrate improvement in clinically important outcomes with proton-pump inhibitor treatment before index endoscopy for undifferentiated upper gastrointestinal bleeding”

Bottom line: We need to choose wisely and stop using PPIs for our GI bleed patients

You actually heard a pericardial friction rub! Now what?

Imazio M, Brucato A, Cemin R, et al. A randomized trial of colchicine for acute pericarditis. N Engl J Med. 2013;369:(16)1522-8. PMID: 23992557

An RCT of 240 patients with acute pericarditis, comparing colchicine (0.5mg daily if 70kg) to placebo. All patients got NSAIDs. The primary outcome of incessant or recurrent pericarditis was decreased from 38% with placebo to 17% with colchicine. Colchicine also decreased symptoms at 72 hours, at 1 week, and hospitalizations. Adverse events were not increased in this study, but everyone knows that colchicine can be nasty at higher doses, like those that used to be used for gout.

Bottom line: I tend to prescribe colchicine for pericarditis based on a NNT of about 5 to decrease recurrence or prolonged symptoms

Speaking of which, the correct colchicine dose is low dose

Terkeltaub RA, Furst DE, Bennett K, Kook KA, Crockett RS, Davis MW. High versus low dosing of oral colchicine for early acute gout flare: Twenty-four-hour outcome of the first multicenter, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group, dose-comparison colchicine study. Arthritis Rheum. 2010;62:(4)1060-8. PMID: 20131255 (free full text)

Hopefully anyone using colchicine for gout has already seen this one. This is a double blind, placebo controlled RCT comparing low dose (1.2mg once then 0.6mg 1 hour later) to high dose (4.8mg over 6 hours) colchicine and to placebo. Pain was significantly improved in about 35% of both colchicine groups, but only 15% of placebo. Severe diarrhea and nausea were both increased by the high dose colchicine, but not the low dose.

Bottom line: Colchicine is equally effective at lower doses than traditionally given, but much better tolerated.

Steri-strips for good cosmetic outcomes

Gkegkes ID, Mavros MN, Alexiou VG, Peppas G, Athanasiou S, Falagas ME. Adhesive strips for the closure of surgical incisional sites: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Surg Innov. 2012;19:(2)145-55. PMID: 21926099

This is a systematic review including 12 RCTs of 1317 patients, comparing the use of adhesive strips to sutures in closing surgical wounds. They found no difference in cosmetic results, infection, or dehiscence. Of course, this is in clean surgical wounds.

Bottom line: Almost every paper I read on wounds just reinforces my inherent bias that it doesn’t really matter how you close wounds – within reason.

More of the same

Mattick A, Clegg G, Beattie T, Ahmad T. A randomised, controlled trial comparing a tissue adhesive (2-octylcyanoacrylate) with adhesive strips (Steristrips) for paediatric laceration repair. Emerg Med J. 2002;19:(5)405-7. PMID: 12204985

An RCT of 44 emergency department pediatric patients comparing steri-strips with dermabond. Both a plastic surgeon and the parents judged cosmetic outcomes. There were no differences between the two groups.

Bottom line: Again, just clean it out and get the edges close. Humans have been healing for millennia.

Reading articles about droperidol leaves me in a state that may require some droperidol

Calver L, Isbister GK. High dose droperidol and QT prolongation: analysis of continuous 12-lead recordings. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2014;77:(5)880-6. PMID: 24168079

I included the much larger study by the same group last month, but it is always nice to explore how many high level decisions in medicine lack a scientific basis. In this prospective observation study, they gave 46 psychiatric patients between 10 and 25 mg of IV droperidol for sedation. All were placed on holter monitors. There were no dysrhythmias. Only 4 patients had any lengthening of their QT and all 4 had other reasons for this, such as methadone.

Bottom line: We should not give up excellent medications based on shoddy science.

Options, for when they take our good drugs away or we run into ‘drug shortages’

Gaffigan ME, Bruner DI, Wason C, Pritchard A, Frumkin K. A Randomized Controlled Trial of Intravenous Haloperidol vs. Intravenous Metoclopramide for Acute Migraine Therapy in the Emergency Department. J Emerg Med. 2015. PMID: 26048068

This is a double-blind RCT of 64 adults with migraines comparing haloperidol 5mg IV to metoclopramide 10mg IV. Both medications offered excellent pain relief, 57/100mm for haloperidol and 49/100mm for metoclopramide (no difference). The metoclopramide group required more rescue medications. There was more restlessness with haloperidol.

Bottom line: Like magnesium (that we discussed a few months ago), Haldol is another option I will keep in mind for the treatment of migraines.

A classic: The FEAST trial

Maitland K, Kiguli S, Opoka RO, et al. Mortality after fluid bolus in African children with severe infection. N Engl J Med. 2011;364:(26)2483-95. PMID: 21615299 (free open access)

This is a classic RCT that randomized 3170 febrile pediatric patients in resource poor environments to either 20ml/kg NS, 20ml/kg albumin, or no bolus. All patients were severely ill with either impaired consciousness or respiratory distress plus signs of impaired perfusion. 48 hour mortality was significantly worse in the bolus groups than the no bolus group (10.5% versus 7.3%). Mortality was also worse at 4 weeks.

Bottom line: In an African setting, poorly perfused pediatric patients do worse with a fluid bolus. Although these results probably don’t generalize to our population, it does remind us that IV fluids are a drug and should be treated as such.

Bonus: This is a free open access article discussing the mechanisms of increased mortality in FEAST. This paper was discussed a great deal at the SMACC conference, and some experts think FEAST is more applicable to our patients than we have recognized.

Vasopressor? Peripheral line is fine

Loubani OM, Green RS. A systematic review of extravasation and local tissue injury from administration of vasopressors through peripheral intravenous catheters and central venous catheters. J Crit Care. 2015;30:(3)653.e9-17. PMID: 25669592

This systematic review looked for any primary studies or case reports that described local tissue injury from vasopressor extravasation, and includes 85 articles and 270 patients. Although there are reports of tissue injuries after peripheral vasopressor administration, these tend to occur after very long use (the average duration of infusion was 55.9 hours.)

Bottom line: Although data is pretty limited, I would be very comfortable starting vasopressors through a peripheral line. Long term management should probably include central access.

What is a placebo controlled trial of sucrose for pain? You compare sugar pills to sugar pills

Harrison D, Yamada J, Adams-Webber T, Ohlsson A, Beyene J, Stevens B. Sweet tasting solutions for reduction of needle-related procedural pain in children aged one to 16 years. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015;5:CD008408. PMID: 25942496

This Cochrane review identified 8 studies encompassing 808 pediatric patients, examining the utility of sucrose or other sweet tasting solutions in decreasing the pain of needles. The studies were all small and of moderate quality. Overall, sweetened substances did not seem to lower pain scores no matter what scoring system you used. Prior studies have concluded benefit – but always after trying to assess the look on a neonate’s face. Judging pain in neonates may be difficult, but I think there is an inherent flaw in saying that a child smiled more after the sugar, so it must have hurt less.

Bottom line: If you think a child is in pain, please give them a pain medication, rather than the key ingredient of every placebo ever made.

Speaking of placebos, a needle may not be better than pills

Schwartz NA, Turturro MA, Istvan DJ, Larkin GL. Patients’ perceptions of route of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug administration and its effect on analgesia. Acad Emerg Med. 2000;7:(8)857-61. PMID: 10958124

I love this study. For 64 patients presenting to the ED with an MSK injury, they gave everyone a juice drink that actually had 800mg of ibuprofen in it (unknown to the patients). They then randomized them to either get placebo pills that looked liked 800mg of ibuprofen or a placebo IM injection resembling 60mg of ketorolac. The patients and the nurses were all blinded. There were no differences in pain on a visual analog scale in the 2 hours that followed, contradicting prior research that indicated that needle based placebos are ‘stronger’ than pill based placebos.

Bottom line: Don’t give patients IM/IV medications just for the placebo affect. Oral NSAIDs are almost always appropriate.

An expensive placebo made popular by sports stars

Rowden A, Dominici P, D’Orazio J, et al. Double-blind, Randomized, Placebo-controlled Study Evaluating the Use of Platelet-rich Plasma Therapy (PRP) for Acute Ankle Sprains in the Emergency Department. J Emerg Med. 2015. PMID: 26048069

Less relevant to emergency medicine, but I have been asked about platelet rich plasma therapy by patients and friends. This is the (placebo?) therapy of sports stars such as Kobe Bryant, in which your own platelets plus some cytokines are injected back into you to treat tendonitis among other things. This was a double blind RCT comparing platelet rich plasma therapy to placebo for acute ankle sprain in the ED. There was no change in pain or function at day 0, 3, or 8.

Bottom line: Despite the huge amount of money being spent on this by rich athletes, it is unlikely to benefit your patients.

Placebos may not help, but medications can actually hurt you

Fralick M, Macdonald EM, Gomes T, et al. Co-trimoxazole and sudden death in patients receiving inhibitors of renin-angiotensin system: population based study. BMJ. 2014;349:g6196. PMID: 25359996 (Free open access)

This is another great massive case control study from David Juurlink and his group looking at the Ontario drug benefit database. They identified all patients who died suddenly and were treated with either an ACEi or an ARB. Those patients who had been on antibiotics within the 7 days before their death were matched to controls who hadn’t received antibiotics. There were 1027 sudden deaths after antibiotics (out of 38879 total sudden deaths.) Using amoxicillin as the baseline, there was an increased risk of sudden death with co-trimoxazole (OR 1.38 95% CI 1.09-1.76) and ciprofloxacin (OR 1.29 95% CI 1.03-1.62). Risk was not increased with nitrofurantoin or norfloxacin. Of course, all standard problems with database observational studies apply.

Bottom line: A tiny absolute risk in the greater scheme of things, but you might want to consider if your UTI patients are on an ACEi or ARB and all else is equal.

Raising a skeptical eyebrow at the literature

White T, Mellick LB. Debunking medical myths: the eyebrow shaving myth. Emerg Med Open J. 2015; 1(2): 31-33. (Free open access)

I love medical myths, so although this myth has never affected my practice in the emergency department, I thought that I would include it. These authors did a systematic review of the literature to determine if shaving of the eyebrows causes problems with eyebrow regrowth. They did not find a single case report or study that would support this myth. There is one tiny study in which they shaved the eyebrows of volunteers and followed them for 6 months, and they all grew back fine.

Bottom line: I don’t know. If you want to shave some eyebrows, go for it.

Steroids for low back pain?

Balakrishnamoorthy R, Horgan I, Perez S, Steele MC, Keijzers GB. Does a single dose of intravenous dexamethasone reduce Symptoms in Emergency department patients with low Back pain and RAdiculopathy (SEBRA)? A double-blind randomised controlled trial. Emerg Med J. 2015;32:(7)525-30. PMID: 25122642

The idea of using corticosteroids for low back pain seems to pop up every once in a while. Although I have never seen it used, I understand there are a number of people who use this regularly. This was a double-blind RCT of 58 patients with acute low back pain in the ED comparing dexamethasome 8mg IV (1 dose) to placebo. At 24 hours, the dexamethasone group averaged 1.86/10 lower pain scores on a visual analogue scale. At 6 weeks pain scores and function were identical. (They report that the dexamethasone group had a lower ED length of stay, but the length of stay in the placebo group was almost 19 hours, which is incomprehensible to me.)

Bottom line: Like steroids for a lot of MSK conditions, there seems to be short term, but not long term improvement in pain.

We now know the evidence. How do you provoke change? Through shame

Yeh DD, Naraghi L, Larentzakis A, et al. Peer-to-peer physician feedback improves adherence to blood transfusion guidelines in the surgical intensive care unit. J Trauma Acute Care Surg. 2015;79:(1)65-70. PMID: 26091316

This trial attempted to address the slow uptake of evidence based guidelines surrounding more restrictive transfusion targets for post-op patients. It was a before and after study in a single tertiary surgical ICU. In the intervention period, if physicians ordered a transfusion in a stable patient that didn’t adhere to the guidelines, they received a follow-up email and education from a colleague. The rate of ‘inappropriate transfusions’ went from 25% to 2%. 30 day readmission rates and mortality were unchanged.

Bottom line: If you want physicians to change their behavior, you shouldn’t just teach them. You should provide peer to peer feedback, aka shame.

Cheesy Joke of the Month

Why was the Kleenex dancing?

Because it had a little boogie in it

FOAMed of the month

Why should we be giving fentanyl IN at triage? Check our this rant via the SGEM and Dr. Anthony Crocco:

Articles of the month (May 2015)

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

Here are my favorite reads from this month. It is a little longer than usual, because apparently what I enjoy doing while sitting pool-side in paradise is catching up on the medical literature. I am sure there is room in the next iteration of the DSM for that.


Myth: Wound eversion magically eliminates scarring

Kappel S, Kleinerman R, King TH, et al. Does wound eversion improve cosmetic outcome?: Results of a randomized, split-scar, comparative trial. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2015;72:(4)668-73. PMID: 25619206

This is a prospective, randomized trial of post-op skin surgery patients where they closed half of the wound using wound eversion and the other half using basic planar approximation. The patients and 2 assessors were blinded and there was no significant difference in appearance at 3 or 6 months. This is in clean surgical wounds, so external validity to the ED is questionable. However, the authors looked for science supporting the dogma of wound eversion, and not surprisingly: there is none.

Bottom line: This is enough for me to stop dogmatically teaching wound eversion – though with only one study, I am always ready to change my mind.

“Therapeutic” hypothermia

Mark DG, Vinson DR, Hung YY, et al. Lack of improved outcomes with increased use of targeted temperature management following out-of-hospital cardiac arrest: a multicenter retrospective cohort study. Resuscitation. 2014;85:(11)1549-56. PMID: 25180922

A retrospective, before and after study of 1119 patients in a system where therapeutic hypothermia for out of hospital cardiac arrest was implemented in 2009. Despite the fact that you would expect improved outcomes just because of improved medical care over the half decade the study ran, there was no difference in mortality or neurologic outcomes whether or not you were cooled.

Bottom line: Thanks to TTM, we already know that cooling is not necessary. We should remember that fever avoidance is currently only a theory without significant evidence basis.

Kids don’t like being cold either

Moler FW, Silverstein FS, Holubkov R, et al. Therapeutic Hypothermia after Out-of-Hospital Cardiac Arrest in Children. N Engl J Med. 2015;372:(20)1898-1908. PMID: 25913022 

You probably would have been fine applying the TTM data to children, as they are just little adults, but we now have some pediatric specific data. This is a multicentre RCT of pediatric (2 days to 18 years) out of hospital cardiac arrest, comparing 33.0 with 36.8 degree Celsius targets. As you might expect, there was no difference in survival or functional outcomes up to one year. However, the raw numbers were better in the hypothermic children, despite being non-statistically significant.

Bottom line: There is no reason to put kids on ice outside of the context of further clinical trials.

Rate control in atrial fibrillation cage match: the cardiology approach (beta blockers) versus the emergency medicine approach (calcium channel blockers)

Martindale JL, et al. β-Blockers versus calcium channel blockers for acute rate control of atrial fibrillation with rapid ventricular response: a systematic review. Eur J Emerg Med. 2015;22:(3)150-4. PMID: 25564459

This is a systematic review of calcium channel blocker versus beta blockers for acute rate control of atrial fibrillation. They could only find 2 quality studies, which were very small. In these studies, diltiazem was better than metoprolol (RR 1.8 95% CI 1.2-2.6) for rate control.

Bottom line: The very limited evidence seems to fit with clinical experience: calcium channels blockers are more likely to get patients controlled in the ED.

The toughest question in the resus room? Maybe if a.fib is the cause of or the result of hemodynamic instability

Scheuermeyer FX, Pourvali R, Rowe BH, et al. Emergency Department Patients With Atrial Fibrillation or Flutter and an Acute Underlying Medical Illness May Not Benefit From Attempts to Control Rate or Rhythm. Ann Emerg Med. 2015;65:(5)511-522.e2. PMID: 25441768

This is a retrospective chart review (well done, but a chart review) of 416 patients with atrial fibrillation and an acute medical illness, out of British Columbia. They compared those patients who had their atrial fibrillation actively managed, versus those in whom the focus was only in treating the underlying condition. No one died in this study. Patients who had either rate or rhythm control had significantly increased rates of major adverse events, primarily increased requirement for pressors and increased intubations.

Bottom line: In sick medical patients who happen to have atrial fibrillation, focus on basic resuscitation over rate/rhythm control.

The new angioedema meds

Bas M et al. A randomized trial of icatibant in ACE-inhibitor-induced angioedema. New England Journal of Medicine. 2015;372(5):418-25. PMID: 25629740

This is one of a few new, very expensive treatments for hereditary angioedema. It is a selective bradykinin B2 receptor antagonist. This was a phase 2 RCT of 30 patients who either received Icatibant or standard therapy of steroids and anti-histamines for patients with ACE inhibitor induced angioedema. The icatibant group responded quicker (8 hours versus 27 hours) and had more complete resolution of their symptoms. The biggest concern with this study (aside from the tiny size and industry involvement) is that, although the standard therapy group probably represents usual care, ideal care might involve use of FFP instead.

Bottom line: In a very small study, icatibant seems to decrease angioedema a lot quicker than ‘usual care’.

Lots of Os up the nose

Frat JP, Thille AW, Mercat A, et al. High-Flow Oxygen through Nasal Cannula in Acute Hypoxemic Respiratory Failure. N Engl J Med. 2015. PMID: 25981908

This is a multi-centre randomized, open label study of high flow, humidified nasal oxygen, versus standard oxygen face mask, versus non-invasive positive pressure ventilation in adult, hypoxic patients. (CHF and exacerbations of asthma or chronic respiratory failure was excluded, so in other words this is primarily pneumonia patients.) There was no difference in their primary outcome of need for intubation, although they powered the study to detect a 20% difference, which is probably larger than the clinically important difference. This biggest news is that 90 day mortality was decreased in the high flow oxygen group (12%, versus 23% with standard oxygen and 28% in NIPPV), but this is a secondary outcome so should be interpreted with caution.

Bottom line: High flow nasal oxygen seems to be at least as good as NIPPV or facemask oxygen (in this select group of patients). This is enough for me to try this with alert pneumonia patients who don’t obviously need intubation.

More evidence PPIs aren’t completely safe

Antoniou T et al. Proton pump inhibitors and the risk of acute kidney injury in older patients: a population-based cohort study. CMAJ Open 2015;3(2):E166-71. (Free full text here)

Using the Ontario Drug Benefit database, these authors compared the cohort of patients with newly prescribed PPIs with a propensity matched group as a control. They excluded anyone also prescribed known nephrotoxic drugs, or with basically any other renal risk factors. People on PPIs were more likely to develop acute kidney injury, with a hazard ratio of 2.52 (95% CI 2.27-2.79). Out of 290,000 patients studied, 1787 were admitted to hospital with AKI – about 8 more than controls for every 1000 patient years on PPIs.

Bottom line: No medication is without side effects, but we treat some like they are water. Early studies will always emphasize benefits and downplay harms.

You don’t need fancy lenses and mirrors to see the retina

Vrablik ME et al. The diagnostic accuracy of bedside ocular ultrasonography for the diagnosis of retinal detachment: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Ann Emerg Med 2015; 65(2):199-203. PMID: 24680547

This meta-analysis attempted to determine the accuracy of ultrasound for diagnosis of retinal detachment in the hands of emergency physicians. In population with a prevalence of detachment between 15% and 38%, they found a sensitivity of ultrasound of 97-100% and a specificity of 83-100%. Of course, these studies are often done with experienced ultrasonographers or after specific training.

Bottom line: I think this definitely has a place in the ED.

Bonus: This castlefest lecture is a great resource for ocular ultrasound, with free CME

A little more diagnostic technology: iPhone otoscopes

Richards JR, Gaylor KA, Pilgrim AJ. Comparison of traditional otoscope to iPhone otoscope in the pediatric ED. Am J Emerg Med. 2015. PMID:  25979304

These authors compared a traditional otoscope with a new one that attaches to your iphone and gives you a video display. There was reasonable agreement between the new one and the old one, although residents and attendings still disagreed about the findings a lot. They claim that the iPhone scope changed the final diagnosis a number of times, but without a clear gold standard I wouldn’t focus on that result.

Bottom line: I am not sure how important it is to treat anything they found here, which limits the value of the tool – but this could be a great way to teach students otoscopy.

Can the D-Dimer be improved? (Well, it can’t get any worse, can it?)

Jaconelli Y and Crane S. Towards evidence based emergency medicine: best BETs from the Manchester Royal Infirmary. BET 2: Should we use an age adjusted D-dimer threshold in managing low risk patients with suspected pulmonary embolism? Emerg Med J 2015;32(4):335-7. PMID: 25804861

This is a systematic review (published before last month’s paper, and so not including it) that found 13 papers addressing the use of an age adjusted d-dimer (less than age x 10). Most of the studies were retrospective, so not of high quality. The authors conclusion is “In older patients suspected of having a PE, with a low pretest possibility, an age-adjusted D-dimer increases specificity with minimal change in the sensitivity, thereby increasing the number of patients who can be safely discharged without further investigations.”

Bottom line: It is looking like the age adjusted d-dimmer in low pre-test probability patients will result in a post-test probability below the test threshold, while increasing specificity.

Speaking of PE testing, the CTPA is not a perfect test

Miller WT, Marinari LA, Barbosa E, et al. Small Pulmonary Artery Defects Are Not Reliable Indicators of Pulmonary Embolism. Ann Am Thorac Soc. 2015. PMID: 25961445

In this study, they took all of the CT scans that were read as positive for PE in one radiology system, and had the scan review by 4 subspeciality thoracic radiologists. 15% of scans read as showing a subsegmental PE by community radiologists were thought to be false positives by the specialists. Another 27% were thought to be indeterminate. This only represents disagreement among radiologists and not the inherent false positives of the test itself.

Bottom line: A positive CT scan is not an objective finding. Before subjecting patients to lifelong anticoagulation, a second opinion on the read might be warranted.

PEs come from the legs – those IVC filters make sense, right?

Mismetti P, Laporte S, Pellerin O, et al. Effect of a retrievable inferior vena cava filter plus anticoagulation vs anticoagulation alone on risk of recurrent pulmonary embolism: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA. 2015;313:(16)1627-35. PMID: 25919526

Prosecptive RCT with blinded outcome assessors, but unblinded patients and treating physicians, randomized 399 patients with PE plus a DVT plus a marker of severity to either anticoagulation alone or anticoagulation plus a retrievable IVC filter. Recurrent PE occurred in 3% of the filter group (all fatal) and 1.5% of the no filter group (2 of 3 fatal) for a non statistically significant relative risk of 2.0 (95% CI 0.51 – 7.89).

Bottom line: IVC filter don’t decrease the rate of PE in patients than can be anticoagulated.

Medications don’t cure kidney stones

Pickard R et al. Medical expulsive therapy in adults with ureteric colic: a multicentre, randomised, placebo-controlled trial. Lancet. 2015. PMID: 25998582

Flomax was pushed for renal stones based on a number a small studies with horrible methods and a few meta-analyses of those horrible studies. There has already been one large RCT with excellent methods demonstrating that Flomax doesn’t work. This should be the nail in the coffin. This is a multicentre placebo controlled RCT of 1167 adult patients with CT confirmed renal stones. They were randomized to either tamsulosin 0.4mg, nifedipine 30mg, or placebo. There was no difference between any of the groups in the number of patients requiring urologic intervention. (About 80% of the patients passed spontaneously, and 20% required an intervention in all groups.)

Bottom line: There is no role for medical expulsive therapy in renal colic.

Antibiotics don’t work for diverticulitis? Is nothing sacred?

Shabanzadeh DM, Wille-Jørgensen P. Antibiotics for uncomplicated diverticulitis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012;11:CD009092. PMID: 23152268

This is a Cochrane systematic review that was able to identify 3 RCTs looking at the use of antibiotics for uncomplicated diverticulitis. Only one compared antibiotics to no antibiotics, the other two compared different types and courses of antibiotics. There was no difference in any of the regimens. In other words, no antibiotics was the same as antibiotics.

Bottom line: Not enough to change my practice, but it is good to know that we have minimal footing to our current practice.

Antibiotics in appendicitis? The right side of the bowel is different from the left, right?

Varadhan KK, Humes DJ, Neal KR, Lobo DN. Antibiotic therapy versus appendectomy for acute appendicitis: a meta-analysis. World J Surg. 2010;34:(2)199-209. PMID: 20041249

This meta-analysis concludes surgery may have a lower risk of complications than antibiotics (RR 0.43 95% CI 0.16-1.18). A little more than 30% of patients treated with antibiotics will actually require surgery. The authors seem to think biases in current study favour the antibiotics group, so real outcomes might be worse.

Bottom line: We don’t really get to make this decision anyway, but surgery is probably still the gold standard.

One last one on antibiotics: If you are going to treat with oral (which you probably should in most cases) don’t give a dose IV in the department

Haran JP, Hayward G, Skinner S, et al. Factors influencing the development of antibiotic associated diarrhea in ED patients discharged home: risk of administering IV antibiotics. Am J Emerg Med. 2014;32:(10)1195-9. PMID: 25149599

This is a prospective cohort study of 247 patients, all of whom were being treated with outpatient oral antibiotics. They compared those who received an IV dose in the ED to those who did not. 25.7% of the IV group developed antibiotic associated diarrhea versus 12.3% in the no IV group (a number needed to harm of 7.5).

Bottom line: Unnecessary IV antibiotics harm our patients.

The best drugs are probably those they keep away from us

Calver L, Page CB, Downes MA, et al. The Safety and Effectiveness of Droperidol for Sedation of Acute Behavioral Disturbance in the Emergency Department. Ann Emerg Med. 2015. PMID: 25890395

This is a prospective observational study of 1009 patients in Australia, all of whom received 10mg of droperidol for sedation of acute behavioral disturbances, and second dose at 15 min as needed. Out of those 1009 patients, 13 developed a long QT, and 7 of those had other contributing causes such as methdone or amiodarone. There were no incidences of tosades de pointes.

Bottom line: The black box warning against droperidol is likely without scientific merit. I would use it if it were available to me. Given how useful this medication is, it might be worth fighting for.

Let’s do two on poo

Gerding DN, Meyer T, Lee C, et al. Administration of spores of nontoxigenic Clostridium difficile strain M3 for prevention of recurrent C. difficile infection: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA. 2015;313:(17)1719-27. PMID: 25942722

We are all colonized with C.diff., so we should be experts in getting rid of it. This is a new one to me. They took patients who completed their treatment for C.diff. and infected them C.diff. Only, this strain of C.diff does not form toxins. This reduced recurrence of clinical infection from 30% to 11%.

Bottom line: You can treat Clostridium difficile with Clostridium difficile. Maybe we should infect ourselves prophylactically?

Drekonja D, Reich J, Gezahegn S, et al. Fecal Microbiota Transplantation for Clostridium difficile Infection: A Systematic Review. Ann Intern Med. 2015;162:(9)630-8. PMID: 25938992

A systematic review, but there are only 2 RCTs to include. In one RCT, fecal trasplant led to 81% of patients having symptom resolution, versus only 31% in the vancomycin group. In another, they demonstrated no difference between NG and rectal routes for the transplant, with about 70% resolution of symptoms. (I’d choose the rectal route, thanks.)

Bottom line: Still really not enough science to warrant a bottom line, but if C.Diff is turning your life to sh*t, consider someone else’s sh*t: it might make you feel better.

Apparently science is useless for xanthrochromia.

Chu K, Hann A, Greenslade J, Williams J, Brown A. Spectrophotometry or visual inspection to most reliably detect xanthochromia in subarachnoid hemorrhage: systematic review. Ann Emerg Med. 2014;64:(3)256-264.e5. PMID: 24635988

This is a systematic review of 10 studies comparing visual inspection to spectrophotometry for detection of xanthrochromia. Visual inspection: sensitivity 83.3% and specificity 95.7%. Spectrophotometry: sensitivity 86.5% and 85.8%. (The gold standard varied from angiography to clinical follow-up.)

Bottom line: There is no clear difference between the two, but neither seem great. Isn’t there some way for the lab to test for the chemical that makes the fluid yellow?

1 + 1 + 1 = 3?

Angus DC, Barnato AE, Bell D, et al. A systematic review and meta-analysis of early goal-directed therapy for septic shock: the ARISE, ProCESS and ProMISe Investigators. Intensive Care Med. 2015. PMID: 25952825

Surprise. The meta analysis of three trials that said the same thing, says the same thing: EGDT is not superior to usual care in 2015. What is worth mentioning is that this is a very good meta-analysis because the investigators of all three trials went out of their way to ensure they were using the same definitions and outcomes before starting.

Bottom line: We can be very confident that we don’t need to be following the protocols of the original EGDT study.

Game changer (x2) for neonatal resuscitation?

Gruber E, Oberhammer R, Balkenhol K, et al. Basic life support trained nurses ventilate more efficiently with laryngeal mask supreme than with facemask or laryngeal tube suction-disposable–a prospective, randomized clinical trial. Resuscitation. 2014;85:(4)499-502. PMID: 24440666

A prospective, RCT comparing ventilation with facemask vs the LMA supreme (LMA-S) vs the laryngeal tube suction-disposable (LTS-D) device in neonatal resuscitation. A lot of the outcomes were of questionable relevance, but ventilation failed in 34% of patients with facemask, 22% with the LTS-D, and 2% with the LMA-S. Higher tidal volumes were delivered with both the LTS-D and the LMA-S than the facemask (470ml vs 240ml). All these resuscitations were run by nurses, so external validity may be questionable.

Trevisanuto et al. Supreme Laryngeal Mask Airway versus Face Mask during Neonatal Resuscitation: A Randomized Controlled Trial. The Journal of Pediatrics. 2015. PMID: 26003882

This is another prospective randomized trial (neither of these could be blinded) of LMA-S versus facemask in 142 neonatal resuscitations of infants greater than 34 weeks or 1500 grams. The LMA resulted in higher 5 minute APGAR scores, less intubations, and lower admissions to NICU.

Overall bottom line: These two prospective studies paint a picture of better ventilation as well as improved patient important outcomes, such as intubations and NICU admissions, when an LMA is used over standard facemask ventilation for neonatal resuscitation. This might cause some culture shock when we run upstairs, but I think this is worth instituting.

Another myth: The subglottic area is the narrowest area of the pediatric airway

Dalal PG, Murray D, Messner AH, Feng A, McAllister J, Molter D. Pediatric laryngeal dimensions: an age-based analysis. Anesth Analg. 2009;108:(5)1475-9. PMID: 19372324

These authors measured the cross sectional area of the airways of 153 children (6months to 13 years) using video bronchoscopy under general anesthesia, and they found that it is the glottis not the cricoid that is the narrowest portion of the airway.

Bottom line: Probably shouldn’t change your daily practice, still pick a tube small enough to pass the cords, but just remember that a lot of what we “know” and teach is wrong. Always keep an open mind in medicine.

Cheesy Joke of the Month

As the doctor completed an examination of the patient, he said, “I can’t find a cause for your complaint. Frankly, I think it’s due to drinking.”

“In that case,” said the patient, “I’ll come back when you’re sober”

FOAMed Resource of the Month

Its not actually up an running yet, but I am really excited about the idea, so its more something to keep an eye out for. If anyone has played around with Coursera or EdX, you know there is a lot of incredible high quality education available for free in just about any subject. These are called MOOCs (massive open online courses). Well, there will soon be an equivalent for emergency medicine education, created for ALiEM:

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.