The non-intubation checklist



A 79 year old previously well female presents with loss of consciousness, having been found unresponsive by her daughter who saw her well one hour previously.

Examination reveals a GCS of E1V2M3 = 6 and reactive pupils with no lateralising signs. She is hypertensive. A VBG reveals a normal glucose and sodium and a pCO2 of 60 mmHg (7.9 kPa).

The emergency physician’s plan is to intubate and get a CT scan of her brain. This is explained to the daughter.

A no-brainer? You’d think so.

A consistent issue that recurs during discussions with UK emergency medicine colleagues is that of having to rely on anaesthesia and/or ICU colleagues for intubation of their patients in the ED. The pain comes not from disagreeing about who does the procedure or what drugs to use, but rather on the decision to intubate.

The refusal to intubate can stall or halt a resuscitation plan, delay care, result in risky transfers to the imaging suite, and even deny potential outcome-improving therapy (for example post-ROSC cooling). It can undermine team leadership and disrupt the team dynamic.

There are often different ways to ‘skin a cat’ and it is frequently helpful to invite the opinion of other critical care specialists. However, it is clear from multiple discussions with frustrated EM colleagues that the decision not to intubate is often influenced by non-clinical factors, most often ICU bed availability. Other times, it appears to be that the ‘gatekeeper’ to airway care (and to ICU beds) does not share the same appreciation of the clinical issues at stake. Examples here include the self-fulfilling pessimism post-ROSC based on inappropriate assignment of predictive value to neurological signs, and the assumption of non-treatable pathology in elderly patients presenting with coma.

The obvious solution to this is that the responsibility for managing the ‘A’ of ABC should not be delegated to non-emergency medicine personnel. Sadly, this is not achievable 24/7 in all UK departments right now for a number of awkward reasons.

So what’s a team leader to do when faced with a colleague’s refusal to intubate? The best approach would be to gently and politely persuade them to change their mind by stating some clinical facts that enable a shared mental model and agreed management plan, and to ensure the most senior available physicians are participating in the discussion.

Sometimes that fails. What next? Here’s a suggestion. This is slightly tongue-in-cheek but take away from it what you will.

It is imperative that the individual declining intubation appreciates the gravity of his or her decision. They must not be under the impression that they’ve done you (and the patient) a favour by giving their opinion after an ‘airway consult’. They have declined a resuscitative intervention requested by the emergency medicine team leader and should appreciate the consequences of this decision and the need to document it as such.

Perhaps say something along the lines of:

I see we haven’t managed to agree on this. We’ll just need you to complete the non-intubation form please for our quality improvement process. This will also help prevent your point being forgotten or misunderstood if we’re unlucky enough to face any complaints or litigation. I can fill it in on your behalf but I suspect you’d want to represent yourself as accurately as possible when documenting such a bold decision

And here’s the form. It is provocative, cheeky, and in no way should really be used in its current form:


Thenar eminence based medicine

thumbs-upA recent study showed superior effectiveness of one bag-mask ventilation style over another in novice providers. The technique recommended is the thenar eminence grip, in which downward pressure is applied with the thenar eminences while the four fingers of each hand pull the jaw upwards toward the mask.

Interestingly, in their crossover study in which the thenar emininence (TE) technique was compared with the traditionally taught ‘CE’ technique, they demonstrated a ‘sequence effect’. If subjects did TE first, they maintained good tidal volumes when doing CE. However if they did CE first, they achieved poor tidal volumes which were markedly improved when switching to TE.

The authors suggest: “A possible explanation for this sequence effect is that the TE grip is superior. When one used the TE grip first, he or she was more likely to learn how a good tidal volume “feels” and then more likely to apply good technique with the EC grip.“.

Some of us have been practicing and teaching this technique for a while. None have put it better than the brilliant Reuben Strayer of EM Updates in this excellent short video:

Emergency Ventilation in 11 Minutes from reuben strayer on Vimeo.

Efficacy of facemask ventilation techniques in novice providers
J Clin Anesth. 2013 May;25(3):193-7

STUDY OBJECTIVE: To determine which of two facemask grip techniques for two-person facemask ventilation was more effective in novice clinicians, the traditional E-C clamp (EC) grip or a thenar eminence (TE) technique.

DESIGN: Prospective, randomized, crossover comparison study.

SETTING: Operating room of a university hospital.

SUBJECTS: 60 novice clinicians (medical and paramedic students).

MEASUREMENTS: Subjects were assigned to perform, in a random order, each of the two mask-grip techniques on consenting ASA physical status 1, 2, and 3 patients undergoing elective general anesthesia while the ventilator delivered a fixed 500 mL tidal volume (VT). In a crossover manner, subjects performed each facemask ventilation technique (EC and TE) for one minute (12 breaths/min). The primary outcome was the mean expired VT compared between techniques. As a secondary outcome, we examined mean peak inspiratory pressure (PIP).

MAIN RESULTS: The TE grip provided greater expired VT (379 mL vs 269 mL), with a mean difference of 110 mL (P < 0.0001; 95% CI: 65, 157). Using the EC grip first had an average VT improvement of 200 mL after crossover to the TE grip (95% CI: 134, 267). When the TE grip was used first, mean VTs were greater than for EC by 24 mL (95% CI: -25, 74). When considering only the first 12 breaths delivered (prior to crossover), the TE grip resulted in mean VTs of 339 mL vs 221 mL for the EC grip (P = 0.0128; 95% CI: 26, 209). There was no significant difference in PIP values using the two grips: the TE mean (SD) was 14.2 (7.0) cm H2O, and the EC mean (SD) was 13.5 (9.0) cm H2O (P = 0.49).

CONCLUSIONS: The TE facemask ventilation grip results in improved ventilation over the EC grip in the hands of novice providers.