A review of over 2500 intubation attempts in the emergency department1, (of which 1671 were rapid sequence intubation attempts) revealed five cricothyroidotomies, giving a crike rate of 0.2% which is much lower than in some other ED based registries. In four patients, predictors of difficult airway were identified before the endotracheal intubation attempt, and formal preparation for rescue surgical airway was performed. Three of the surgical airways were performed by emergency medicine trainees, one by an emergency medicine specialist and one by an ear, nose and throat specialist. There was a 100% success rate for placement of all surgical airways on the first attempt.
Four surgical airways were done in trauma patients: laryngeal fracture, facial burns, Le Fort II facial fracture and penetrating neck injury.
This study is of interest to UK emergency physicians who may be interested in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary’s collaborative approach to emergency airway management by the Departments of Emergency Medicine, Anaesthesia and Critical Care.
It is not possible to tell from this paper whether there were patients in whom surgical airway was indicated but not performed, and therefore in my view the ostensibly ‘good’ low rate of 0.2% should be viewed with interest rather than awe. Having said that, this figure is more in keeping with my own experience and expectation from UK/Australasian practice; it has been highlighted in the UK EM literature before2, including by myself3, that in our patient group good training and supervision should result in lower surgical airway rates than the ~1% often quoted.
OBJECTIVES: To determine the frequency of and primary indication for surgical airway during emergency department intubation.
METHODS: Prospectively collected data from all intubations performed in the emergency department from January 1999 to July 2007 were analysed to ascertain the frequency of surgical airway access. Original data were collected on a structured proforma, entered into a regional database and analysed. Patient records were then reviewed to determine the primary indication for a surgical airway.
RESULTS: Emergency department intubation was undertaken in 2524 patients. Of these, only five patients (0.2%) required a surgical airway. The most common indication for a surgical airway was trauma in four of the five patients. Two patients had attempted rapid sequence induction before surgical airway. Two patients had gaseous inductions and one patient received no drugs. In all five patients, surgical airway was performed secondary to failed endotracheal intubation attempt(s) and was never the primary technique used.
CONCLUSION: In our emergency department, surgical airway is an uncommon procedure. The rate of 0.2% is significantly lower than rates quoted in other studies. The most common indication for surgical airway was severe facial or neck trauma. Our emergency department has a joint protocol for emergency intubation agreed by the Departments of Emergency Medicine, Anaesthesia and Critical Care at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. We believe that the low surgical airway rate is secondary to this collaborative approach. The identified low rate of emergency department surgical airway has implications for training and maintenance of skills for emergency medicine trainees and physicians.
1. Surgical airway in emergency department intubation
Eur J Emerg Med. 2011 Jun;18(3):168-71
2. Rapid sequence induction in the emergency department: a strategy for failure.
Emerg Med J. 2002 Mar;19(2):109-13
3. RSI by non-anaesthetists in the UK – lower incidence of cricothyrotomy than in the US
EMJ e-letters 2002; 3 April