Tag Archives: human factors

Perimortem Caesarean Delivery: Late is Better than Not

“To date, approximately one-third of the women who die during pregnancy remain undelivered at the time of death”

Guidelines recommend cardiac arrest in pregnant women beyond 20 weeks gestation should be treated with perimortem caesarean delivery (PMCD) commenced within 4 minutes of arrest and completed within 5. These time intervals come from two papers, neither of which is current or used robust review methodology.

To address this, an up-to-date fairly comprehensive review was undertaken of published cases of maternal cardiac arrests occurring prior to delivery. The primary outcome measures were maternal and neonatal survival to hospital discharge and the relationship between PMCD and this outcome.

The Arrests

94 cases were included in the final analysis.Most pregnancies were singleton (90.4%, n = 85) with an average gestational age at the time of the arrest of 33 ± 7 weeks (median 35, range 10–42).

The most common causes of arrest were trauma, maternal cardiac problems, severe pre-eclampsia and amniotic fluid embolism, together comprising about 70% of arrests; two thirds occurred in hospital.

The Outcomes

Overall, return of spontaneous circulation (ROSC) was achieved more often than not (60.6%) and overall survival to hospital discharge was 54.3%

Only 57 cases (75%) reported the time from arrest to delivery; the average time was 16.6 ± 12.5 min (median 10, range 1–60), with only 4 cases making it under the advocated 4-min time limit.

Timing of PMCD and Maternal Survival

In cases undergoing PMCD the average time elapsing from arrest to PMCD was significantly different between surviving (27/57) and non-surviving (30/57) mothers [10.0 ± 7.2 min (median 9, range 1–37) and 22.6 ± 13.3 min (median 20, range 4–60) respectively (p < 0.001, 95%CI 6.9–18.2)].

Timing of PMCD and Neonatal Survival

Mean times to PMCD were 14±11min (median=10, range=1–47) and 22 ± 13 min (median = 20, range = 4–60) in neonatal survivors and non-survivors respectively (p=0.016)

In cases with PMCD which reported outcome, the overall neonatal survival rate was 63.6% (42/66).

“The 4-min time frame advocated for PMCD usually remains unmet yet neonatal survival is still likely if delivery occurs within 10 or even 15 min of arrest”

Both maternal & neonatal mortality were higher with prehospital arrest location.


The study may be limited by recall bias, under-reporting and publication bias, but provides a more comprehensive evidence base on which to base resuscitation recommendations. The authors provide a useful warning against becoming fixated with the recommended four minute window, which may lead teams to fail to attempt a potentially life-saving intervention:

“Fixation on specific time frames for PMCD may not be ideal. It may be more important to focus on event recognition and good overall performance…. It may be wise to advocate a short time frame for performance of PMCD in order to achieve better outcomes; however, blanket endorsement of an unrealistic time frame may well create a defeatist attitude when that time frame cannot be met.”

Maternal cardiac arrest and perimortem caesarean delivery: Evidence or expert-based?
Resuscitation. 2012 Oct;83(10):1191-200

AIM: To examine the outcomes of maternal cardiac arrest and the evidence for the 4-min time frame from arrest to perimortem caesarean delivery (PMCD) recommended in current resuscitation and obstetric guidelines.

DATA SOURCES AND METHODS: Review and data extraction from all reported maternal cardiac arrests occurring prior to delivery (1980-2010). Cases were included if they provided details regarding both the event and outcomes. Outcomes of arrest were assessed using survival, Cerebral Performance Category (CPC) and maternal/neonatal harm/benefit from PMCD. Outcome measures were maternal and neonatal survival.

RESULTS: Of 1594 manuscripts screened, 156 underwent full review. Data extracted from 80 relevant papers yielded 94 included cases. Maternal outcome: 54.3% (51/94) of mothers survived to hospital discharge, 78.4% (40/51) with a CPC of 1/2. PMCD was determined to have been beneficial to the mother in 31.7% of cases and was not harmful in any case. In-hospital arrest and PMCD within 10 min of arrest were associated with better maternal outcomes (ORs 5.17 and 7.42 respectively, p<0.05 both). Neonatal outcome: mean times from arrest to delivery were 14±11 min and 22±13 min in survivors and non-survivors respectively (receiver operating area under the curve 0.729). Neonatal survival was only associated with in-hospital maternal arrest (OR 13.0, p<0.001).

CONCLUSIONS: Treatment recommendations should include a low admission threshold to a highly monitored area for pregnant women with cardiorespiratory decompensation, good overall performance of resuscitation and delivery within 10 min of arrest. Cognitive dissonance may delay both situation recognition and the response to maternal collapse.

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]

Leadership & experience count in trauma resuscitation

These findings shouldn’t be a surprise – and the authors acknowledge a number of methodological weaknesses in what is essentially a pilot study – but the conclusions are worth reminding people about.

INTRODUCTION: Leadership plays a key role in trauma team management and might affect the efficiency of patient care. Our hypothesis was that a positive relationship exists between the trauma team members’ perception of leadership and the efficiency of the injured patient’s initial evaluation.

METHODS: We conducted a prospective observational study evaluating trauma attending leadership (TAL) over 5 months at a level 1 trauma center. After the completion of patient care, trauma team members evaluated the TAL’s ability using a modified Campbell Leadership Descriptor Survey tool. Scores ranged from 18 (ineffective leader) to 72 (perfect score). Clinical efficiency was measured prospectively by recording the time needed to complete an advanced trauma life support (ATLS)-directed resuscitation. Assessment times across Leadership score groups were compared using Kruskal-Wallis and Mann-Whitney tests (p < 0.05, statistically significant).

RESULTS: Seven attending physicians were included with a postfellowship experience ranging from ≤1 to 11 years. The average leadership score was 59.8 (range, 27-72). Leadership scores were divided into 3 groups post facto: low (18-45), medium (46-67), and high (68-72). The teams directed by surgeons with low scores took significantly longer than teams directed by surgeons with high scores to complete the secondary survey (14 ± 4 minutes in contrast to 11 ± 2 minutes, p < 0.009) and to transport the patient for CT evaluation (19 ± 5 minutes in contrast to 14 ± 4 minutes; p < 0.001). Attending surgeon experience also affected clinical efficiency with teams directed by less experienced surgeons taking significantly longer to complete the primary survey (p < 0.05).

CONCLUSION: The trauma team’s perception of leadership is associated positively with clinical efficiency. As such, more formal leadership training could potentially improve patient care and should be included in surgical education.

Trauma leadership: does perception drive reality?
J Surg Educ. 2012 Mar-Apr;69(2):236-40

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!

Paramedics control space

Paramedics practice ‘‘in the street’’ and perform in ‘‘a context rife with chaotic, dangerous, and often uncontrollable elements with which hospital-based practitioners need not contend’ We knew that, but what isn’t known is how more experienced or expert paramedics differ from novices in scene management. This qualitative study involving interviews of 24 paramedics describes the ‘space control theory’ – how paramedics establish control over their immediate workspace to effectively deliver patient care. It’s not big on detail, but at least this paper documents for hospital-based ambulance medical advisors that there is more to paramedicine than purely clinical factors, which is why insistence on hospital-derived clinical treatment algorithms might sometimes be inappropriate in the field. I’ve emailed the author for more details.

Introduction to the ‘‘space-control theory of paramedic scene management’’
Emerg Med J. 2009 Mar;26(3):213-6