Intubation of the critically ill in Scotland

Hi folks! Cliff has given me the helm of his blogsite for this week whilst he is teaching prehospital and critical care ultrasound with the Americans at Castlefest 2012

He invited me to write an article on this latest paper in British Journal of Anaesthesia on Scottish ICU audit of emergency tracheal intubation. For those who don’t know, Cliff has a proud Scottish heritage and this paper is a useful audit of his home land’s performance of this critical care intervention. I have done airway audits and this one is quite a reasonable 4 month effort albeit not every ICU in Scotland participated, which is not unusual for those wanting to do these kind of audits. Airway management gets a bit personal and some find review of their emergency airway performance to be confronting. It should not be. Now it’s a fine distinction but its important to be clear on this. A FAILED AIRWAY DOES NOT MEAN YOU ARE A FAILURE!! FAILED OXYGENATION IS ANOTHER STORY….

There are always recurring themes from audits like these and I will highlight a few.

The first and foremost, is the absolutely essential role of capnography for tracheal tube confirmation and monitoring of airway patency and ventilator status. My FDEAR aeromedical intubation audit showed this was an issue of patient safety that should be improved.

This Scottish ICU study revealed that capnography was used in only 54% of emergency intubations despite the vast majority being in hospital locations where such monitoring is available! This is a recurring theme amongst emergency airway audits and coroners reports like this one.

Paradoxically this Scottish audit had a high number of intubating doctors with greater than 24 months of anaesthetic training and one hypothesis I have is that as doctors become more confident in emergency intubations, perhaps less reliance is felt required on monitoring like capnography? In human factors research into anaesthetic related crises, we call this the invulnerability or superman complex : “If I say the tube has gone in, I must be right!”

Secondly, the length of anaesthetic training of the intubating doctor appeared related to overall airway success rates and a low complication rate. There was only one surgical airway required over the 4 month period and 794 recorded intubations. The authors discuss though the potential problems that may face up and coming critical care doctors in the United Kingdom who may not be exposed to terms of anaesthetic training of up to 2 years. My own personal view is that it does not and should not matter where you get your emergency airway training but it should be structured and specific to the work that you are going to do. Learning to do epidural anaesthesia in laboring women might not be so helpful for the bilateral pneumonia swine flu patient with a BMI of 50! And certainly no point learning to use airway equipment that you will rarely or never have available where you normally work!

Thirdly and I find this fascinating having heard talks and debates on this topic by Dr Scott Weingart and Dr Paul Mayo, but in this Scottish paper of bloody sick patients needing intubation, 8% were performed without paralytics at all and overall intubation success and number of attempts were not significantly different compared to the paralytic assisted group. My view is that overall in critically ill patients , paralytics are your friend as these folks need the airway secured, one way or another. However this paper and Dr Mayo’s work certainly demonstrate that sedation only intubation is successful and is a reasonable alternative.

Finally, 61% of these emergency intubations utilized propofol and there was an association with post intubation hypotension (systolic <70mmHg). Ketamine use was low at 3% and I think this just reflects the greater anaesthetic training of the doctors in the study. I am aware Cliff has done a previous podcast rant on Propofol assasins

I don’t want to rant and am not as good at it as Cliff. BUT Choose your poison carefully! This paper reminds us what we all know. The milk of amnesia has issues! Ask the Jackson family!

Anyway that’s enough for this paper. I gotta pick myself off the floor again after listening to Cliff’s propofol rant..

– Dr Minh Le Cong, Royal Flying Doctor Service, Australia

BACKGROUND: Complications associated with tracheal intubation may occur in up to 40% of critically ill patients. Since practice in emergency airway management varies between intensive care units (ICUs) and countries, complication rates may also differ. We undertook a prospective, observational study of tracheal intubation performed by critical care doctors in Scotland to identify practice, complications, and training.

METHODS: For 4 months, we collected data on any intubation performed by doctors working in critical care throughout Scotland except those in patients having elective surgery and those carried out before admission to hospital. We used a standardized data form to collect information on pre-induction physical state and organ support, the doctor carrying out the intubation, the techniques and drugs used, and complications noted.

RESULTS: Data from 794 intubations were analysed. Seventy per cent occurred in ICU and 18% occurred in emergency departments. The first-time intubation success rate was 91%, no patient required more than three attempts at intubation, and one patient required surgical tracheostomy. Severe hypoxaemia ( <80%) occurred in 22%, severe hypotension (systolic arterial pressure <80 mm Hg) in 20%, and oesophageal intubation in 2%. Three-quarters of intubations were performed by doctors with more than 24 months formal anaesthetic training and all but one doctor with <6 months training had senior supervision.

CONCLUSIONS: Tracheal intubation by critical care doctors in Scotland has a higher first-time success rate than described in previous reports of critical care intubation, and technical complications are few. Doctors carrying out intubation had undergone longer formal training in anaesthesia than described previously, and junior trainees are routinely supervised. Despite these good results, further work is necessary to reduce physiological complications and patient morbidity.

Tracheal intubation in the critically ill: a multi-centre national study of practice and complications
Br J Anaesth. 2012 May;108(5):792-9

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