Plasma:red cell ratios

In some circles, ‘wuntwuntwun’ is in danger of becoming the new dogma of trauma fluid replacement (ie. 1 unit of plasma and 1 unit of platelets for every unit of red cells). Since it takes longer to thaw some plasma than it does to throw in some O negative packed red cells, some really sick patients may be dead before they get the plasma, biasing comparisons that show a reduced mortality in patients who were still alive to receive plasma. This ‘survivor bias’ has been suggested as a reason that high plasma:red cell ratios are associated with mortality reduction, although this has been challenged.

The survivor bias explanation receives some new support by the following (small) study from Journal of Trauma:

BACKGROUND: In light of recent data, controversy surrounds the apparent 30-day survival benefit of patients achieving a fresh frozen plasma (FFP) to packed red blood cell (PRBC) ratio of at least 1:2 in the face of massive transfusions (MT) (≥10 units of PRBC within 24 hours of admission). We hypothesized that initial studies suffer from survival bias because they do not consider early deaths secondary to uncontrolled exsanguinating hemorrhage. To help resolve this controversy, we evaluated the temporal relationship between blood product administration and mortality in civilian trauma patients receiving MT.


METHODS: Patients requiring MT over a 22-month period were identified from the resuscitation registry of a Level I trauma center. Shock severity at admission and timing of shock-trauma admission, blood product administration, and death were determined. Patients were divided into high- and low-ratio groups (≥1:2 and<1:2 FFP:PRBC, respectively) and compared. Kaplan-Meier analysis and log-rank test was used to examine 24-hour survival.

RESULTS: One hundred three patients (63% blunt) were identified (66 high-ratio and 37 low-ratio). Those patients who achieved a high-ratio in 24 hours had improved survival. However, severity of shock was less in the high-group (base excess: -8.0 vs. -11.2, p=0.028; lactate: 6.3 vs. 8.4, p=0.03). Seventy-five patients received MT within 6 hours. Of these, 29 received a high-ratio in 6 hours. Again, severity of shock was less in the high-ratio group (base excess: -7.6 vs. -12.7, p=0.008; lactate: 6.7 vs. 9.4, p=0.02). For these patients, 6-hour mortality was less in the high-group (10% vs. 48%, p<0.002). After accounting for early deaths, groups were similar from 6 hours to 24 hours.

CONCLUSIONS: Improved survival was observed in patients receiving a higher plasma ratio over the first 24 hours. However, temporal analysis of mortality using shorter time periods revealed those who achieve early high-ratio are in less shock and less likely to die early from uncontrolled hemorrhage compared with those who never achieve a high-ratio. Thus, the proposed survival advantage of a high-ratio may be because of selection of those not likely to die in the first place; that is, patients die with a low-ratio not because of a low-ratio.

The authors state “The current study underscores the need for well-designed prospective studies to address the important question of which ratio results in improved survival and stresses the importance of timing of blood product administration as this may impact survival.

Improved survival after hemostatic resuscitation: does the emperor have no clothes?
J Trauma. 2011 Jan;70(1):97-102

Helicopters between hospitals

More National Trauma Databank analysis coming out in favour of helicopter transport: this time looking at interhospital transfer:

Background: Helicopter transport (HT) is frequently used for interfacility transfer of injured patients to a trauma center. The benefits of HT over ground transport (GT) in this setting are unclear. By using a national sample, the objective of this study was to assess whether HT impacted outcomes following interfacility transfer of trauma patients.

Methods: Patients transferred by HT or GT in 2007 were identified using the National Trauma Databank (version 8). Injury severity, resource utilization, and survival to discharge were compared. Stepwise logistic regression was used to determine whether transport modality was a predictor of survival after adjusting for covariates. Regression analysis was repeated in subgroups with Injury Severity Score (ISS) ≤15 and ISS >15.

Results: There were 74,779 patients transported by helicopter (20%) or ground (80%). Mean ISS was higher in patients transported by helicopter (17 ± 11 vs. 12 ± 9; p < 0.01) as was the proportion with ISS >15 (49% vs. 28%; odds ratio [OR], 2.53; 95% confidence interval [CI], 2.43-2.63). Patients transported by helicopter had higher rates of intensive care unit admission (54% vs. 29%; OR, 2.86; 95% CI, 2.75-2.96), had shorter transport time (61 ± 55 minutes vs. 98 ± 71 minutes; p < 0.01), and had shorter overall prehospital time (135 ± 86 minutes vs. 202 ± 132 minutes; p < 0.01). HT was not a predictor of survival overall or in patients with ISS ≤15. In patients with ISS >15, HT was a predictor of survival (OR, 1.09; 95% CI, 1.02-1.17; p = 0.01).

Conclusions: Patients transported by helicopter were more severely injured and required more hospital resources than patients transported by ground. HT offered shorter transport and overall prehospital times. For patients with ISS >15, HT was a predictor of survival. These findings should be considered when developing interfacility transfer policies for patients with severe injuries.

Helicopters Improve Survival in Seriously Injured Patients Requiring Interfacility Transfer for Definitive Care
J Trauma. 2011 Feb;70(2):310-4.

Neck movement in spite of collar

A cadaveric study using an artificially created unstable cervical spine injury has shown marked displacement of the vertebrae when cervical collars were applied, and when the bodies were moved in a way that simulated normal transfer and log-rolling. There was no comparison with a no-collar situation, so we can’t say from this that collars are necessarily bad, just that they’re no good in this cadaveric model. I like this statement by the authors:

A variety of collars, backboards, and other equipment and techniques are being used in an attempt to achieve spine stabilization, largely without any validation of efficacy when used in the presence of a severe cervical injury. Randomized, prospective clinical trial designs are challenging in this domain theless, basic cadaver studies can provide valuable insight into potential clinical efficacy.

"Severe unstable injuries were created in seven fresh whole human cadavers"

Even more musical to my ears is the editorial commentary by neurosurgery professor Richard L. Saunders, MD:

…the more compelling question is whether there is a place for collars in emergent protection of the injured cervical spine or are they simply a gimcrack***?
The incidence of second injuries to the spinal cord in the extraction of accident victims under the best of EMT performance is not known and would be difficult to determine. However, in an effort to minimize that incidence, paramedical gospel is the application of a cervical collar, maintaining the neck in in-line and in a neutral position. By definition, this gospel implies the deliberate movement of the neck to apply an orthotic known to be nonprotective. Furthermore, the neutral and in-line admonition implies that the patient’s neck position can be safely adjusted to “look better” without a shred of evidence that this might be a safer strategy than avoiding any unnecessary neck movement whatsoever….
…In a conclusion common to many small study reports, the authors recommend that more work should be done in this area. In my opinion that might be best in refinements of extraction methods with an eye to only that neck movement necessary to resuscitation, collar be damned.

Motion Within the Unstable Cervical Spine During Patient Maneuvering: The Neck Pivot-Shift Phenomenon
J Trauma. 2011 Jan;70(1):247-50

*** I confess never to have encountered this word before. According to the freedictionary.com, a gimcrack is ‘A cheap and showy object of little or no use; a gewgaw‘. Now, WTF is a gewgaw?!?!

Testing of Low-Risk Chest Pain Patients

A summary of the literature on low risk chest pain, including history, physical exam, ECG, biomarkers, and investigations such as exercise tolerance testing, myocardial perfusion imaging, and other investigations, is provided in the American Heart Association’s recently published scientific statement.

The document contains a number of useful statistics on the limitations of clinical assessment in ruling out coronary artery disease, such as these:

…the Multicenter Chest Pain Study found that 22% of patients presenting with symptoms described as sharp or stabbing pain (13% with pleuritic pain and 7% with pain reproduced on palpation) were eventually diagnosed with ACS.”

Testing of Low-Risk Patients Presenting to the Emergency Department With Chest Pain
A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association

Circulation. 2010;122:1756-1776 – Full Text

CPR on your own? Stay at the head end

In this manikin study, single-rescuer bag-mask ventilation (BMV) with chest compressions was tried in three different positions. Staying at the head end to deliver effective BMV, with ‘over-the-head’ chest compressions from that position, was best.

Background The 2005 guidelines for cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) do not include a statement on performance of basic life support by a single healthcare professional using a bagevalveemask device. Three positions are possible: chest compressions and ventilations from over the head of the casualty (over-the-head CPR), from the side of the casualty (lateral CPR), and chest compressions from the side and ventilations from over the head of the casualty (alternating CPR). The aim of this study was to compare CPR quality of these three positions.

Methods 102 healthcare professionals were randomised to a crossover design and performed a 2-min CPR test on a manikin for each position.

Results The hands-off time over a 2-min interval was not significantly different between over-the-head (median 31 s) and lateral (31 s) CPR, but these compared favourably with alternating CPR (36 s). Over-the-head CPR resulted in significantly more chest compressions (155) compared with lateral (152) and alternating CPR (149); the number of correct chest compressions did not differ significantly (119 vs 122 vs 109). Alternating CPR resulted in significantly less inflations (eight) compared with over-the-head (ten) and lateral CPR (ten). Lateral CPR led to significantly less correct inflations (three) compared with over-the-head (five) and alternating CPR (four).

Conclusions In the case of a single healthcare professional using a bagevalveemask device, the quality of over-the-head CPR is at least equivalent to lateral, and superior to alternating CPR. Because of the potential difficulties in bagevalveemask ventilation in the lateral position, the authors recommend over-the-head CPR.

Comparison of the over-the-head, lateral and alternating positions during cardiopulmonary resuscitation performed by a single rescuer with a bag valve mask device
Emerg Med J. 2010 Oct 14. [Epub ahead of print]

Estimating child weight in Hong Kong

We know that the ‘APLS formula’ is inaccurate as a tool for estimating weight in Western children, and British and Australian researchers have devised more fitting formulae for their local populations as described here.

Summary table from the Hong Kong study of existing weight estimation rules

The emergency medicine team at the Accident and Emergency Medicine Academic Unit, Chinese University of Hong Kong have now provided a solution for Chinese children:

weight (kg) = (3 x age) + 5.

This was most accurate and precise in children <7 years old.

Age-based formulae to estimate children’s weight in the emergency department
Emerg Med J. 2010 Oct 13. [Epub ahead of print]

It gets tricky if they're 50% Chinese. Luckily, he's my son and I know how much he weighs.

GCS in intubated patients

We use the Glasgow Coma Score to describe conscious level, derived from eye opening, verbal response, and motor response.

One problem is that if your patient is intubated, there can’t be a verbal response. There are some ways round this. Imagine your intubated patient opens eys to a painful stimulus and withdraws his limb from one:

  • Just give him the lowest score (1) for the verbal component – E2M4V1
  • Write ‘V’ (ventilated) or ‘T’ (tube), eg. E2M4VT
  • Make it up, based on what you would expect the V score to be based on the E and M scores.

Weird as it sounds, there is a model for this, demonstrated in the paper abstracted below. The Derived Verbal Score = -0.3756 + Motor Score * (0.5713) + Eye Score * (0.4233).

Don’t worry…if you really want to use this, you don’t have to memorise that equation; there is an online calculator for it here and if you try it you’ll see this patient gets a derived verbal score of 2.3, and therefore a GCS of 7.3! Your decision now whether to round up or down. (In the meantime, I’ve given the patient a V of 1 and called it GCS E2M4VT=7.)

Alternatively, of course, you could try a better validated score that gives more information, the FOUR score, as validated here. The problem is, most people won’t know what you’re talking about.

The conundrum of the Glasgow Coma Scale in intubated patients: a linear regression prediction of the Glasgow verbal score from the Glasgow eye and motor scores.
Meredith W, Rutledge R, Fakhry SM, Emery S, Kromhout-Schiro S.

BACKGROUND: The Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS), which is the foundation of the Trauma Score, Trauma and Injury Severity Score, and the Acute Physiology and Chronic Health Evaluation scoring systems, requires a verbal response. In some series, up to 50% of injured patients must be excluded from analysis because of lack of a verbal component for the GCS. The present study extends previous work evaluating derivation of the verbal score from the eye and motor components of the GCS.

METHODS: Data were obtained from a state trauma registry for 24,565 unintubated patients. The eye and motor scores were used in a previously published regression model to predict the verbal score: Derived Verbal Score = -0.3756 + Motor Score * (0.5713) + Eye Score * (0.4233). The correlation of the actual and derived verbal and GCS scales were assessed. In addition the ability of the actual and derived GCS to predict patient survival in a logistic regression model were analyzed using the PC SAS system for statistical analysis. The predictive power of the actual and the predicted GCS were compared using the area under the receiver operator characteristic curve and Hosmer-Lemeshow goodness-of-fit testing.

RESULTS: A total of 24,085 patients were available for analysis. The mean actual verbal score was 4.4 +/- 1.3 versus a predicted verbal score of 4.3 +/- 1.2 (r = 0.90, p = 0.0001). The actual GCS was 13.6 + 3.5 versus a predicted GCS of 13.7 +/- 3.4 (r = 0.97, p = 0.0001). The results of the comparison of the prediction of survival in patients based on the actual GCS and the derived GCS show that the mean actual GCS was 13.5 + 3.5 versus 13.7 + 3.4 in the regression predicted model. The area under the receiver operator characteristic curve for predicting survival of the two values was similar at 0.868 for the actual GCS compared with 0.850 for the predicted GCS.

CONCLUSIONS: The previously derived method of calculating the verbal score from the eye and motor scores is an excellent predictor of the actual verbal score. Furthermore, the derived GCS performed better than the actual GCS by several measures. The present study confirms previous work that a very accurate GCS can be derived in the absence of the verbal component.

The conundrum of the Glasgow Coma Scale in intubated patients: a linear regression prediction of the Glasgow verbal score from the Glasgow eye and motor scores.
J Trauma. 1998 May;44(5):839-44 (if you have full text access to Journal of Trauma the best bit about this article is the discussion on pages 844-5 in which surgeons wrestle with the meaning of the word ‘conundrum’ and the spelling of ‘Glasgow’).

Flying Docs and Airways

Flying Doctor Minh Le Cong describes the profile and success rates of emergency endotracheal intubation conducted by the Queensland Royal Flying Doctor Service aeromedical retrieval team, comprising a doctor and flight nurse. It would be interesting to know how many more patients have been added to the registry since this was submitted. An important contribution to the literature in retrieval medicine.













Objective To describe the profile and success rates of emergency endotracheal intubation conducted by the Queensland Royal Flying Doctor Service aeromedical retrieval team comprising a doctor and flight nurse.


Method Each intubator completed a study questionnaire at the time of each intubation for indications, complications, overall success, drugs utilised and deployment of rescue airway devices/adjuncts.


Results 76 patients were intubated; 72 intubations were successful. None required surgical airway and three were managed with laryngeal mask airways; the remaining failure was managed with simple airway positioning for transport. There were two cardiac arrests during intubation. Thiopentone and suxamethonium were the predominant drugs used to facilitate intubation.


Conclusion Despite a low rate of endotracheal intubation, the high success rate was similar to other aeromedical organisations’ published airway data. This study demonstrates the utility of the laryngeal mask airway device in the retrieval and transport setting, in particular for managing a failed intubation.


Flying doctor emergency airway registry: a 3-year, prospective, observational study of endotracheal intubation by the Queensland Section of the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia
Emerg Med J. 2010 Sep 15. [Epub ahead of print]

Those interested in learning more about this registry, including how often capnography was used, more information about the asystolic arrests, and whether they tried a blind digital intubation, can check this link to a presentation about the registry.

How to give cold saline in the field

Pre-hospital therapeutic hypothermia might be a good thing, but there may be difficulties in achieving it if the 4 degrees C saline warms up during the infusion. What’s the optimal way of administering it? Czech investigators attempt to answer the question:

Background The cooling efficacy of intravenous administration of cold crystalloids can be enhanced by optimisation of the procedure. This study assessed the temperature stability of different application regimens of cold normal saline (NS) in simulated prehospital conditions.

Methods Twelve different application regimens of 4°C cold NS (volumes of 250, 500 and 1000 ml applied at infusion rates of 1000, 2000, 4000 and 6000 ml/h) were investigated for infusion temperature changes during administration to an artificial detention reservoir in simulated prehospital conditions.

Results An increase in infusion temperature was observed in all regimens, with an average of 8.163.38C (p<0.001). This was most intense during application of the residual 20% of the initial volume. The lowest rewarming was exhibited in regimens with 250 and 500 ml bags applied at an infusion rate of 6000 ml/h and 250 ml applied at 4000 ml/h. More intense, but clinically acceptable, rewarming presented in regimens with 500 and 1000 ml bags administered at 4000 ml/h, 1000 ml at 6000 ml/h and 250 ml applied at 2000 ml/h. Other regimens were burdened by excessive rewarming.

Conclusion Rewarming of cold NS during application in prehospital conditions is a typical occurrence. Considering that the use of 250 ml bags means the infusion must be exchanged too frequently during cooling, the use of 500 or 1000 ml NS bags applied at an infusion rate of $4000 ml/h and termination of the infusion when 80% of the infusion volume has been administered is regarded as optimal.

Prehospital cooling by cold infusion: searching for the optimal infusion regimen
Emerg Med J. 2010 Aug 23. [Epub ahead of print]

Inadequate pre-hospital needle thoracostomy

The purpose of this study was to evaluate the frequency of inadequate needle chest thoracostomy in the prehospital setting in trauma patients suspected of having a pneumothorax (PTX) on the basis of physical examination.

This study took place at a level I trauma center. All trauma patients arriving via emergency medical services with a suspected PTX and a needle thoracostomy were evaluated for a PTX with bedside ultrasound. Patients too unstable for ultrasound evaluation before tube thoracostomy were excluded, and convenience sampling was used. All patients were scanned while supine. Examinations began at the midclavicular line and included the second through fifth ribs. If no sliding lung sign (SLS) was noted, a PTX was suspected, and the lung point was sought for definitive confirmation. When an SLS was noted throughout and a PTX was ruled out on ultrasound imaging, the thoracostomy catheter was removed. Descriptive statistics were calculated.

Image used with kind permission of Bret Nelson, MD, RDMS (click image for more great ultrasound images)

A total of 57 patients were evaluated over a 3-year period. All had at least 1 needle thoracostomy attempted; 1 patient underwent 3 attempts. Fifteen patients (26%) had a normal SLS on ultrasound examination and no PTX after the thoracostomy catheter was removed. None of the 15 patients were later discovered to have a PTX on subsequent computed tomography.

In this study, 26% of patients who received needle thoracostomy in the prehospital setting for a suspected PTX appeared not to have had a PTX originally, nor had 1 induced by the needle thoracostomy. It may be prudent to evaluate such patients with bedside ultrasound instead of automatically converting all needle thoracostomies to tube thoracostomies.

Inadequate needle thoracostomy rate in the prehospital setting for presumed pneumothorax: an ultrasound study
J Ultrasound Med. 2010 Sep;29(9):1285-9