Tag Archives: education

Beherrsche die Reanimation

TLsm-icon The whole purpose behind my career and this blog is to save life. Like most emergency physicians I don’t see a huge number of resuscitation patients myself in a given week, so my best hope in making a difference is to develop my teaching skills so that I can motivate and inspire others to improve their ability to manage resuscitation.

The highlight of my week therefore has been the receipt of some email feedback from a colleague in Germany. An intensivist, internist, and prehospital doctor (I like him already) who tells me he found my ‘Own the Resus‘ talk helpful:

Dear Dr. Reid,

Few days ago, too tired too sleep after a long shift on my ICU (18 beds internal medicine ICU, I am specialist in internal medicine specialized in intensive care and prehospital emergency medicine in a major German city) I watched your talk via emcrit podcast. I was immediately caught, I soaked in every word, I was fascinated, watched it twice in the middle of the night and next afternoon I listened to it in my car driving to work.

At this very day I did some overdue crap beyond the end of my shift when I heard the ominous shuffling of feet and rolling of the emergency cart from the other end of the ward… “I think we need your help….”

There it was, difficult airway situation. Patient crashing.

Then what followed was a kind of “out of body experience”. I did what was necessary, made things happen like calling anesthesia difficult airway code, calling the surgeons, organizing fiber optics and meanwhile trying to secure that airway myself until i could dispatch anesthesia to the head and surgeons to the neck. Within few minutes there were 6 doctors and 5 nurses shuffling on 9 square meters…

I found myself 1 meter behind the foot end of the pts bed and with your talk in my head I found me consciously controlling the crowd. There was suddenly the messages of your talk and there was me. I don’t know how to put it into words, I wouldn’t have done something else in medical terms but thanks to your talk I had the vocabulary, the tools to reflect myself as the leader to be in charge of the situation somehow with more distance, and after a successful resus the 10 people involved in this code went off with a good feeling that everybody contributed in what they could and all for the pts benefit.

Your talk was a kind of transition to the next level for me: from the colleague who asks how to get out of trouble in many situations because he was often deeply in trouble, to the one who leads out of trouble.

With your talk many things suddenly became clear and I am looking forward to be able to work harder on this role of leading.

Thank you very much.


London Calling – part 2

Notes from Days 2 & 3 of the London Trauma Conference

Day 2 of the LTC was really good. There were some cracking speakers who clearly had the ‘gift’ when it comes to entertaining the audience. No death by PowerPoint here (although it seems Keynote is now the presentation software of choice!). The theme of the day was prehospital care and major incidents.

The golden nuggets to take away include: (too many to list all of course)

  • ‘Pull’ is the key to rapid extrication from cars if time critical from the Norweigan perspective. Dr Lars Wik of the Norweigen air ambulance presented their method of rapid extrication. Essentially they drag the car back on the road or away from what ever it has crashed into to control the environment and make space (360 style). They put a paramedic in the car whilst this is happening. They then make a cut in the A post near the roof, secure the rear of the car to a fire truck or fixed object with a chain and put another chain around the lower A post and steering wheel that is then winched tight. This has the effect of ‘reversing’ the crash and a few videos showed really fast access to the patient. The car seems to peel open. As they train specifically for it, there doesn’t seem to be any safety problems so far and its much quicker than their old method. I guess it doesnt matter really how you organise a rapid extrication method as long as it is trained for and everyone is on the same page.
  • Dr Bob Winter presented his thoughts on hangings – to date no survivor of a non-judicial hanging has had a C-spine injury, so why do we collar them? Also there seems no point in cooling them. All imaging and concern for these patients should be based on the significant soft tissue injury that can be caused around the neck.
  • Drownings – if the patient is totally submerged probably reasonable to search for 30mins in water that is >6 degrees or 90mins if <6 degrees. After that it becomes a body recovery (unless there is an air pocket or some exceptional circumstance). Patients that have drowned should have early ventilatory support if they show any signs of resp distress.
  • Drs Julian Thompson and Mark Byers reassured us on a variety of safety issues at major incidents. It seems the risk to rescuers from secondary bombs at scene is low. Very few terrorist attacks world wide, ever, have had secondary devices so rescuers should be reassured (a bit). Greatest risk to the rescuer, like always, are the silly simple things that are a risk every day, like tripping over your own feet! With reference to chemical incidents, simple PPE seems to be sufficient for the vast majority of incidents, even fairly significant chemical ones, all this mucking about in full air tight suits is probably pointless and means patients cant be treated (at all). This led to the debate of how much risk should we, as rescue staff, accept? Clearly there are no absolute answers but minimising all risk to the rescuer is often at conflict with your ability to rescue. Where the balance should lie is a matter for organisations and individuals I guess.
  • Sir Prof Keith Porter also gave us an update on the future of Prehospital emergency medicine as a recognised medical specialty. As those in the know, know, the specialty has been recognised by the GMC and the first draft of trainees are currently in post. More deaneries will be following suit soon to begin training but it is likely to take some time to build up large numbers of trained specialists. Importantly for those of us who already have completed our training there will be an option to sub specialise in PHEM but it will involve undertaking the FIMC exam. Great, more exams – see you there.


Day 3 – Major trauma
The focus of day 3 was that of damage control. Damage control surgery and damage control resucitation. We had indepth discussions about how to manage pelvic trauma and some of the finer points of trauma resuscitation.

Specific points raised were:

  • Pelvic binders are great and can replace an ex fix if the abdomen needs opening to fix a spleen for example.
  • You can catheterise patients with pelvic fractures (one gentle try).
  • Most pelvic bleeds are venous which is why surgeons who can pack a pelvis is better than a radiologist who can mainly only treat arterial bleeds.
  • Coagulopathy in trauma is not DIC and is probably caused by peripheral hypoperfusion.
  • All the standard clotting tests that we use (INR etc) are useless and take too long to do. ROTEM or TEG is much better but still not perfect.

Also, as I am sure will please many – pressure isn’t flow so dont use pressors in trauma!



Chris Hill is an emergency and prehospital care physician based in the United Kingdom

Life, limb and sight-saving procedures

The challenge of competence in the face of rarity

by Dr Cliff Reid FCEM, and Dr Mike Clancy FCEM

This article is to be published in Emergency Medicine Journal (EMJ), and is reproduced here with permission of the BMJ Group.

Emergency physicians require competence in procedures which are required to preserve life, limb viability, or sight, and whose urgency cannot await referral to another specialist.

Some procedures that fit this description, such as tracheal intubation after neuromuscular blockade in a hypoxaemic patient with trismus, or placement of an intercostal catheter in a patient with a tension pneumothorax, are required sufficiently frequently in elective clinical practice that competence can be acquired simply by training in emergency department, intensive care, or operating room environments.

Other procedures, such as resuscitative thoracotomy, may be required so infrequently that the first time a clinician encounters a patient requiring such an intervention may be after the completion of specialist training, or in the absence of colleagues with prior experience in the technique.

Some techniques that might be considered limb or life saving may be too technically complex to acquire outside specialist surgical training programs. Examples are damage control laparotomy and limb fasciotomy. One could however argue that these are rarely too urgent to await arrival of the appropriate specialist.

The procedures which might fit the description of a time­‐critical life, limb, or sight saving procedure in which it is technically feasible to acquire competence within or alongside an emergency medicine residency, and that cannot await another specialist, include:

  • limb amputation for the entrapped casualty with life-­threatening injuries;
  • escharotomy for a burns patient with compromised ventilation or limb perfusion;


Defining competence for emergency physicians
A major challenge is the acquisition of competence in the face of such clinical rarity. One medical definition of competence is ‘the knowledge, skill, attitude or combination of these, that enables one to effectively perform the activities of a particular occupation or role to the standards expected’[1]; in essence the ability to perform to a standard, but where are these standards defined?

If we look to the curricula which are used to assess specialist emergency physicians in several English-­speaking nations, all the procedures in the short list above are included, although no one single nation’s curriculum includes the entire list (Table 1).


So an emergency physician is expected to be able to conduct these procedures, and a competent emergency physician effectively performs them to the ‘standards’ expected. It appears then that the question is not whether emergency physicians should perform them, but to what standard should they be trained? Only then can the optimal approach to training be decided.

There are convincing arguments that even after minimal training the performance of these procedures by emergency physicians is justifiable:

  • All the abovementioned interventions could be considered to carry 100% morbidity or mortality if not performed, with some chance of benefit whose magnitude depends on the timeliness of intervention. In some cases that risk is quantifiable: cardiac arrest due to penetrating thoracic trauma has 100% mortality if untreated, but an 18% survival to discharge rate, with a high rate of neurologically intact survivors, if performed by prehospital emergency medicine doctors in the field according to defined indications[2] and using a simple operative procedure[3]. In this extreme clinical example, no further harm to the patient can result from the procedure but a chance of supreme benefit exists. Thus, the ethical requirements of beneficence and non-­maleficence are both met even in the circumstance of very limited training for the procedure. It is hard to conceive of many other circumstances in medicine where the benefit:harm ratio approaches infinity.
  • The procedures in question are technically straightforward and can be executed without specialist equipment in non-­operating room environments. These factors appear to be underappreciated by non-­emergency specialist opponents of emergency physician-­provided thoracotomy whose practice and experience is likely to be predominantly operating room-­based[4].
  • Some of the procedures are recommended or mandated by official guidelines[5], raising the possibility of medicolegal consequences of failure to perform them.
  • The procedures are time-­critical and cannot await the arrival of an alternative specialist not already present. Simple pragmatism dictates that emergency physicians be trained to provide the necessary interventions.


The challenge of training
So how does one best train for these procedures? High volume trauma experience provided by a registrar term with the London Helicopter Emergency Medical Service or at a South African trauma centre will be an option for a very limited subset of trainees. Alternative training can be provided using simulation, animal labs, and cadaver labs, without risk to patients or requiring dedicated surgical specialty attachments.

Simulation manikins are not yet available for all the procedures mentioned, and lack realistic operable tissue. Human cadaver labs and live animal training bring administrative, legal, ethical and financial challenges that may be prohibitive to time and cash‐limited training schemes, or be less available to the ‘already trained’ providers in existing consultant posts. Even excellent focused cadaver-­based courses such as the Royal College of Surgeons’ Definitive Surgical Trauma Skills course[6] may not be appropriate for the emergency medicine environment: on such a course one of the authors (CR) was publicly castigated by a cardiothoracic surgeon instructor for inexpert suture technique during the resuscitative thoracotomy workshop, despite the former having successfully performed the procedure on several occasions ‘in the field’ without need of elaborate needlework.

An additional training challenge is that of metacompetence: the decision and ability to apply the competence at the right time. In the light of the relative technical simplicity of the practical procedures under discussion, this may indeed be the greatest challenge. Both authors can recount sad tales of colleagues failing to provide indicated life-­saving interventions despite being technically capable of intervening. Reasons for reticence include ‘I haven’t been properly trained’, and ‘I wouldn’t feel supported if it went wrong’.


Where do we go from here?
We have presented clinical, ethical, practical, and medicolegal arguments in favour of emergency physicians providing these procedures. Collectively, the emergency medicine curricula of English-­speaking nations mandate competence in them. The relative technical simplicity and overwhelming benefit:harm equation obviate the need to match the competence of a surgical subspecialist; these factors suggest training can be limited in time and cost as long as the metacompetences of ‘decision to act and knowing when to act’ are taught, simulated, and tested.

While we should capitalise on the technical expertise of surgical colleagues in the training situation, it is imperative that emergency physicians appreciative of the emergency department environment and equipment are directly involved in translating this training to emergency medicine practice. The rarity of the situations requiring these procedures requires that training should be revisited on a regular basis, preferably in the context of local departmental simulation in order to optimise equipment and teamwork preparation.

Finally, the College of Emergency Medicine needs to make it clear to its members and fellows that these procedures lie unquestionably within the domain of emergency medicine, and that emergency physicians are supported in performing them to the best of their abilities with limited training when circumstances dictate that this in the best interests of preserving a patient’s life, limb, or sight.



1. British Medical Association. Competency-­based assessment discussion paper for consultants, May 2008. http://www.bma.org.uk/employmentandcontracts/doctors_performance/1_app raisal/CompetencyBasedAssessment.jsp Accessed 22nd March 2012
2. Davies GE, Lockey DJ. Thirteen Survivors of Prehospital Thoracotomy for Penetrating Trauma: A Prehospital Physician‐Performed Resuscitation Procedure That Can Yield Good Results. J Trauma. 2011;70(5):E75-­8
3. Wise D, Davies G, Coats T, et al. Emergency thoracotomy: “how to do it”. Emerg Med J. 2005; 22(1):22–24 Free full text
4. Civil I. Emergency room thoracotomy: has availability triumphed over advisability in the care of trauma patients in Australasia? Emerg Med Australas. 2010;22(4):257­‐9
5. Soar J, Perkins GD, Abbas G, et al. European Resuscitation Council Guidelines for Resuscitation 2010 Section 8. Cardiac arrest in special circumstances: Electrolyte abnormalities, poisoning, drowning, accidental hypothermia, hyperthermia, asthma, anaphylaxis, cardiac surgery, trauma, pregnancy, electrocution. Resuscitation. 2010;81(10):1400-­33 Full text
6. Definitive Surgical Trauma Skills course. http://www.rcseng.ac.uk/courses/course-search/dsts.html Accessed 22nd March 2012
7. http://www.collemergencymed.ac.uk/Training-Exams/Curriculum/Curriculum%20from%20August%202010/ Accessed 22nd March 2012
8. http://www.eusem.org/cms/assets/1/pdf/european_curriculum_for_em-aug09-djw.pdf accessed 17 May 2012
9. The Model of the Clinical Practice of Emergency Medicine http://www.abem.org/PUBLIC/portal/alias__Rainbow/lang__en-%C2%AD%20US/tabID__4223/DesktopDefault.aspx Accessed 22nd March 2012
10. http://rcpsc.medical.org/residency/certification/objectives/emergmed_e.pdf Accessed 22nd March 2012
11. http://www.acem.org.au/media/publications/15_Fellowship_Curriculum.pdf accessed 17 May 2012
12. http://www.collegemedsa.ac.za/Documents/doc_173.pdf accessed 17 May 2012

Life, limb and sight-saving procedures-the challenge of competence in the face of rarity
Emerg Med J. 2012 Jul 16. [Epub ahead of print]

Training in prehospital and retrieval medicine

I’ve been too busy to blog literature updates for a couple of weeks since I and my colleagues have been flat out running a two week training course in prehospital and retrieval medicine.
Our Helicopter Emergency Medical Service physicians and paramedics care for a wide range of adult and paediatric trauma and critical care patients in some challenging environments. We therefore need to provide a fairly comprehensive induction course for new recruits.

The new guys did us proud. They just need to stay this awesome.

Saving Lives Through Failure

Think about what you would do if faced with the following situation:

You sedate and paralyse a patient with severe injuries in order to intubate them. You are unable to intubate due to a poor view and massive orofacial haemorrhage. An iGel provides temporary oxygenation while you prepare for a surgical airway.

Your first surgical airway attempt fails due to insertion of the bougie through a false (too superficial) passage. You spot your mistake and re-do the procedure successfully with a deeper incision. The patient’s airway is secure and there is good oxygenation and ventilation.

You discover that a colleague has videoed the procedure on his iPhone. However he only captured the first, unsuccessful attempt. The patient is not identifiable in the close up video. It’s late at night and only he and you know of the existence of the video. He asks you what you want him to do with it.

Do you…

(a) Ask your colleague to delete the video?

(b) Watch the video with him and look for learning points, and then delete it?

(c) Ask him for a copy of it and request that he doesn’t show it to anyone else?

(d) Other course of action

Consider your course of action given this situation, and then click below to reveal what my colleague did recently in exactly the same scenario…

(d) He did something else entirely: he got a copy of the video, burned it onto a CD, and left it on his boss’s desk!

It takes a certain kind of practitioner to risk embarrassment and criticism in the pursuit of the greater educational good.

He had already ascertained what he would need to do differently next time, so had nothing personal to gain from his chosen action.

Instead, he believed that sharing the video would help prevent his colleagues from repeating the same mistake, and help his supervisors review their cricothyroidotomy training in order to better prepare their team for the procedure. Ultimately, this gesture was directed towards the good of our patients.

His actions may have saved more than one life that evening.

It’s up to you….

Sometimes you have nothing to lose by doing a procedure that you may never have done before, if the patient is going to die or deteriorate without it.

In today’s competency-based-training-and-accreditation climate (a good thing), how does one achieve competence in a procedure that may be too rare to have even been seen, let alone practiced under supervision and formally assessed?

I spend a lot of time and energy trying to convince colleagues and trainees that there are situations where the benefit-harm equation is in favour of acting, despite reservations they may have about inadequate experience or training. These situations often require ‘surgical’ procedures. What they have in common is that they are all relatively simple to perform, but may save a life, a limb, or sight which otherwise may almost certainly be lost.

How best to train for these procedures, some of which may be too rare even for ‘see one, do one, teach one’ in an entire residency program? Simulators? Animal labs? Cadavers?

Slide from 'Making Things Happen' Course

In my view, the answer is to use the most high fidelity simulator in the universe – the human brain. It is those professionals who mentally rehearse the scenario and visualise the procedure over and over who are most likely to act when the patient needs it most. Several colleagues of mine over the years can recount incidents in which the indications for a thoracotomy or hysterotomy were present but they failed to act, talking themselves out of doing the procedure with a range of excuses from ‘I hadn’t had enough training’ to ‘No-one in the room wanted to do it’. Don’t be one of those! Get simulating now – you have all the equipment you need!

Ten steps to making it happen – be prepared

1. Pick a procedure (eg. thoracotomy)
2. Be ABSOLUTELY CLEAR on the indications – this helps remove any doubt when the time comes
3. Learn how to do it (talk to colleagues, read a book)
4. Know where the required equipment is kept
5. Start practicing in your mind – visualise seeing the patient, what you will say to your staff, where you will locate your equipment, what you will do procedurally step-by-step
6. Visualise possible outcomes and what your next steps would be (tamponade plus cardiac wound in a beating heart, tamponade plus wound plus VF, return of spontaneous circulation with bleeding from internal mammary arteries)
7. Read more and talk to more colleagues based on questions arising from your ‘simulations’
8. Travel, go on a course, get access to animal or cadaver labs if that’s an option in your setting
9. Speak to people who have done it in YOUR context (eg. for a resus room thoracotomy, talk to emergency physicians who have done it there, rather than a cardiothoracic surgeon who has only ever done them in the operating room)
10. Find an excuse on shift to talk about it to colleagues and rehearse the steps, locate the equipment, and so on. Remember: REPETITION IS THE MOTHER OF SKILL!

What’s on your list of life/limb/sight-saving procedures that can’t wait for someone else to do? Did I miss any? Should skull trephination be there? Comments welcome!

Paediatric airway gems

Dr Rich Levitan has made an enormous contribution to the science and practice of emergency airway management, as his bibliography demonstrates. In a new article in Emergency Physicians Monthly entitled ‘Demystifying Pediatric Laryngoscopy’, Rich covers some great tips for optimising laryngoscopic view in kids.

Check this excerpt out for an example:

During laryngoscopy in infants the epiglottis and uvula are often touching; the epiglottis may be located within an inch of the mouth. Often the epiglottis lies against the posterior pharynx, and it is critical to have a Yankauer to dab the posterior pharynx as the laryngoscope is advanced. Hyperextension of the head pushes the base of tongue and epiglottis backwards against the posterior pharyngeal wall, and makes epiglottis identification more difficult

Gems like this come thick and fast when you hear or read what Rich has to say. Seven years ago I was left reeling after finishing his ‘Airway Cam Guide to Intubation and Practical Emergency Airway Management‘ which profoundly influenced the way I practice and teach emergency airway skills, including on the Critical Care for Emergency Physicians course.

I’ve finally gotten round to booking a place on one of his courses in March in Baltimore. I’ll let you know how it goes. In the mean time, I’d like to point you toward his training videos as a great educational resource, like this one that demonstrates for novice laryngoscopists the difference between the appearances of trachea and oesophagus, the former having recognisable, defined posterior cartilagenous structures:

Demystifying Pediatric Laryngoscopy
Emergency Physicians Monthly January 19, 2011

Less smelly than chicken drumsticks

Emergency and orthopaedic doctors Elizabeth and Anthony Bateman from Britain describe their method of making a bone simulator for intraosseous cannulation training:

  • Take up to one Crunchie bar per trainee (leave in wrapper!) – this simulates the cancellous bone that is cannulated.
  • Tightly plaster cast with four layers of polyester cast tape (12.5 cm width matches closely to Crunchie bar length), cutting lengths of the cast tape as needed prior to immersing in water – this simulates the hard cortical bone.
  • Foam padding, or two layers of wool band from the plaster room, can be added to simulate soft tissue.

A quick google reveals it can be a challenge getting Crunchie bars in the United States. Maybe there’s a suitable honeycomb-centred alternative. If not you can resort to ordering them from Amazon.

Intraosseus access simulation: the Crunchie solution
Emerg Med J. 2010 Dec;27(12):961

The four-stage approach to teaching skills

Instructors and graduates of certain Life Support courses will be familiar with the ‘four stage’ approach to teaching procedural skills (demonstration, deconstruction, formulation, performance):

  1. Silent run through in which teacher performs without commentary;
  2. teacher then performs while commentating;
  3. teacher then performs with commentary from student(s);
  4. finally student performs and commentates.

Two randomised studies published this month showed no improvement in skills performance with this teaching method compared with simpler approaches. One involved needle cricothyroidotomy1 and another laryngeal mask insertion2.

An accompanying editorial3 acknowledges that this might put an end to this educational dogma, but one should consider that the procedures taught in these studies were simple to perform, and the results might not be extendable to more complex procedures.

The editorial points out there are some interesting data describing the neurophysiological basis of learning. Observing actions made by others activates the cortical circuits responsible for the planning and execution of those same actions; this visual-motor coupling happens through a neuronal matching network called the Mirror Neuron System (MNS). Listening to a verbal description of a skill can activate the same visual-motor circuit as those activated by the hand or the leg when completing the skill. Even during new motor pattern formation there is significant NMS activation, supporting the concept that the building of motor memories is based on the combination of observation and execution.

The ingredients of the complex mechanism of motor learning are observation, listening and immediate execution. The priority that should be given to each of the individual components of motor skills teaching is difficult to quantify and should be the subject of future research.

The editorialists conclude: The four-stage approach has been used for years with no evidence of better skill acquisition and retention compared with traditional methods. Medical educators need high-quality data to address the knowledge gaps for this topic and the two studies in this issue have set a precedent for future research. In our opinion, we should continue to use the four-stage approach to skill teaching while waiting for more evidence of a superior approach.

I differ slightly in my conclusion: if I have a limited time to teach a skill station (like airway management in the APLS course), I know I’m a little more justified in ditching this time consuming ritual in favour of more hands-on time for the paying delegates.

1. Emergency skill training—A randomized controlled study on the effectiveness of the 4-stage approach compared to traditional clinical teaching
Resuscitation. 2010 Dec;81(12):1692-7

2. A randomised trial comparing a 4-stage to 2-stage teaching technique for laryngeal mask insertion
Resuscitation. 2010 Dec;81(12):1687-91

3. The four-stage approach to teaching skills: The end of a dogma?
Resuscitation. 2010 Dec;81(12):1607-8

Neurologist Vilayanur Ramachandran explains the mirror neuron system in this video from TED.com: