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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Volume 10, Issue 3, 2009

Volume 10 Issue 3 2009


Unsuspected Pulmonary Embolism in Observation Unit Patients

Objective: Many emergency department (ED) patients with cardiopulmonary symptoms such as chest pain or dyspnea are placed in observation units but do not undergo specific diagnostic testing for pulmonary embolism (PE). The role of observation units in the diagnosis of PE has not been studied. We hypothesized that there was a small but significant rate of unsuspected PE in our observation unit population.

Methods: We performed a retrospective chart review at an urban academic hospital of all ED patients with an International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision diagnosis of PE between January 2005 and July 2006. The number of such patients assigned to observation at any point in their stay was recorded, in addition to events leading to diagnosis and subsequent in-hospital outcomes.

Results: Thirteen of the 190 ED patients diagnosed with PE were placed in the observation unit. Six of these either had a known recent diagnosis of PE or had testing for PE initiated prior to placement in the observation unit. Two of the remaining seven patients with undiagnosed PE were placed in observation for undifferentiated chest pain, accounting for 0.09% of the 2190 patients under the chest pain protocol. Twelve of 13 PE patients (92%) were admitted with an average stay of 4.3 days. Of the 13 patients, five were ultimately determined after admission to not have PE, leaving a rate of confirmed PE in the observation unit population of 0.12% (8/6182), with five of eight being classified as unsuspected prior to assignment to observation (0.08% rate).

Conclusion: We identified a small number of patients assigned to observation with unsuspected PE. The high rate of hospital admission and prolonged hospital stay suggests that patients with PE are inappropriate for observation status. Given the low incidence of unsuspected PE, there may be a need for a specific approach to screening for PE in observation unit patients.

[WestJEM. 2009;10:130-134.]

Linear Correlation of Endotracheal Tube Cuff Pressure and Volume

Objectives: Endotracheal tube cuff (ETTc) inflation by standard methods may result in excessive ETTc pressure. Previous studies have indicated that methods of cuff inflation most frequently used to inflate ETTcs include palpation of the tension in the pilot balloon or injection of a predetermined volume of air to inflate the pilot balloon. If a logarithmic relationship exists between ETTc volume and ETTc pressure, small volumes of additional air will result in dramatic pressure increases after a volume threshold is reached. Our goal was to determine whether the relationship between ETTc volume and ETTc pressure is linear or non-linear.

Methods: In this Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee-approved study, we recorded ETTc volume and pressure in four anesthetized and mechanically-ventilated canines ranging between 30-40 pounds (mean 34.7lb, SD 3.8lb) that were endotracheally intubated with a 7.0 mm ETT. The varying cuff pressures associated with a distribution of 28 progressively increasing volumes of air in the ETTc were recorded. Spearman correlation was performed to determine if a linear or non-linear relationship existed between these variables.

Results: The Spearman rho coefficient of correlation between ETTc volume and ETTc pressure was 0.969, or approximately 97%, suggesting near-perfect linear relationship between ETTc volume and ETTc pressure over the range of volumes and pressures tested.

Conclusions: Over the range of volumes and pressures tested a linear relationship between volume and pressure results in no precipitous increase in slope of the pressure:volume curve as volume increases.

[WestJEM. 2009;10:137-139.]

Left Ventricular Hypertrophy May Be Transient in the Emergency Department

Background: While research has established that the bedside electrocardiogram (ECG) is an insensitive test for the presence or absence of left ventricular hypertrophy (LVH), the finding, when present, is thought to be reproducible.

Objective: To assess the reproducibility of serial ECGs done in the emergency department (ED) with regard to the presence or absence of LVH.

Method: A prospective study on consecutive patients admitted to an ED-run cardiac observation unit. A single reviewer collected and scored ECGs for the presence of LVH, using three established criteria (Cornell, Sokolow-Lyon and Romhilt-Estes). Demographic and medical history was also collected.

Results: Over a three-year time period, 295 patients were enrolled; 132 males and 163 females with a mean age of 54.4 years (range, 19-89 years). The prevalence of LVH ranged from 11-14% and the agreement among all three criteria was fair (kappa = 0.325). Using the Cornell criteria, 33 patients had ECG#1 consistent with LVH. Of the patients meeting LVH criteria on ECG #1, only 15 retained their diagnosis of LVH on ECG#2 (i.e. 55% of the LVH identified in ECG#1 was not seen in ECG#2). Additionally, nine patients developed an ECG diagnosis of LVH between ECG#1 and ECG#2. In total, 27 (nine percent of the total) had ECG measurements that changed between ECG#1 and ECG#2. We made similar findings with the Sokolow-Lyon and Romhilt-Estes criteria. The results were not modified by gender, blood pressure or medication use.

Conclusion: The finding of LVH on ECG was not very reproducible during serial measurements on the same person during a single 24-hour observation period.

[WestJEM. 2009;10:140-143]

Surgeons’ and Emergency Physicians’ Perceptions of Trauma Management and Training

Objective: The study objective was to determine whether surgeons and emergency medicine physicians (EMPs) have differing opinions on trauma residency training and trauma management in clinical practice.

Methods: A survey was mailed to 250 EMPs and 250 surgeons randomly selected.

Results: Fifty percent of surgeons perceived that surgery exclusively managed trauma compared to 27% of EMPs. Surgeons were more likely to feel that only surgeons should manage trauma on presentation to the ED. However, only 60% of surgeons currently felt comfortable with caring for the trauma patient, compared to 84% of EMPs. Compared to EMPs, surgeons are less likely to feel that EMPs can initially manage the trauma patient (71% of surgeons vs. 92% of EMPs).

Conclusion: EMPs are comfortable managing trauma while many surgeons do not feel comfortable with the complex trauma patient although the majority of surgeons responded that surgeons should manage the trauma.

[WestJEM. 2009;10:144-149.]

Procedural Skills Training During Emergency Medicine Residency: Are We Teaching the Right Things?

Objectives: The Residency Review Committee training requirements for emergency medicine residents (EM) are defined by consensus panels, with specific topics abstracted from lists of patient complaints and diagnostic codes. The relevance of specific curricular topics to actual practice has not been studied. We compared residency graduates’ self-assessed preparation during training to importance in practice for a variety of EM procedural skills.

Methods: We distributed a web-based survey to all graduates of the Denver Health Residency Program in EM over the past 10 years. The survey addressed: practice type and patient census; years of experience; additional procedural training beyond residency; and confidence, preparation, and importance in practice for 12 procedures (extensor tendon repair, transvenous pacing, lumbar puncture, applanation tonometry, arterial line placement, anoscopy, CT scan interpretation, diagnostic peritoneal lavage, slit lamp usage, ultrasonography, compartment pressure measurement and procedural sedation). For each skill, preparation and importance were measured on four-point Likert scales. We compared mean preparation and importance scores using paired sample t-tests, to identify areas of under- or over-preparation.

Results: Seventy-four residency graduates (59% of those eligible) completed the survey. There were significant discrepancies between importance in practice and preparation during residency for eight of the 12 skills. Under-preparation was significant for transvenous pacing, CT scan interpretation, slit lamp examinations and procedural sedation. Over-preparation was significant for extensor tendon repair, arterial line placement, peritoneal lavage and ultrasonography. There were strong correlations (r>0.3) between preparation during residency and confidence for 10 of the 12 procedural skills, suggesting a high degree of internal consistency for the survey.

Conclusions: Practicing emergency physicians may be uniquely qualified to identify areas of under- and over-preparation during residency training. There were significant discrepancies between importance in practice and preparation during residency for eight of 12 procedures. There was a strong correlation between confidence and preparation during residency for almost all procedural skills, re-enforcing the tenet that residency training is the primary locus of instruction for clinical procedures.

[WestJEM. 2009;10:152-156.]

Factors Applicants Value when Selecting an Emergency Medicine Residency

Objective: Little is known about the factors important to applicants when selecting an emergency medicine residency. We sought to identify which residency-specific criteria applicants value in selecting a training program.

Methods: We conducted an anonymous survey of emergency medicine interviewees at our residency. Applicants were asked to rate each of 18 factors on a four-point scale from 1 (“not at all important”) to 4 (“very important”) in their selection of a residency.

Results: Of 82 interviewees, 73 (89%) completed the survey. The factors with the top six mean scores were: how happy the residents seemed (3.9), program personality (3.8), faculty enthusiasm (3.7), geographic location (3.6), experience during interview day (3.5), and pediatrics training (3.5).

Conclusion: The top three factors deemed most important to emergency medicine applicants are primarily intangibles, while programs have no control over the fourth most important factor, location.

[WestJEM. 2009;10:159-162.]

Balancing Potency of Platelet Inhibition with Bleeding Risk in the Early Treatment of Acute Coronary Syndrome

Objective: To review available evidence and examine issues surrounding the use of advanced antiplatelet therapy in an effort to provide a practical guide for emergency physicians caring for patients with acute coronary syndromes (ACS).

Data Sources: American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association (ACC/AHA) 2007 guidelines for the management of patients with unstable angina (UA) and non-ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction (NSTEMI), AHA/ACC 2007 focused update for the management of patients with STEMI, selected clinical articles identified through the PubMed database (1965-February 2008), and manual searches for relevant articles identified from those retrieved.

Study Selection: English-language controlled studies and randomized clinical trials that assessed the efficacy and safety of antiplatelet therapy in treating patients with all ACS manifestations.

Data Extraction and Synthesis: Clinical data, including treatment regimens and patient demographics and outcomes, were extracted and critically analyzed from the selected studies and clinical trials. Pertinent data from relevant patient registries were also evaluated to assess current clinical practice.

Conclusions: As platelet activation and aggregation are central to ACS pathology, antiplatelet agents are critical to early treatment. A widely accepted first-line treatment is aspirin, which acts to decrease platelet activation via inhibition of thromboxane A2 synthesis. Thienopyridines, which inhibit ADP-induced platelet activation, and glycoprotein (GP) receptor antagonists, which bind to platelet GP IIb/IIIa receptors and hinder their role in platelet aggregation and thrombus formation, provide complementary mechanisms of platelet inhibition and are often employed in combination with aspirin. While the higher levels of platelet inhibition that accompany combination therapy improve protection against ischemic and peri-procedural events, the risk of bleeding is also increased. Thus, the challenge in choosing appropriate therapy in the emergency department lies in balancing the need for potent platelet inhibition with the potential for increased risk of bleeding and future interventions the patient is likely to receive during the index hospitalization.

[WestJEM. 2009;10:163-175.]

Violent Hiccups: An Infrequent Cause of Bradyarrhythmias

A hiccup, or singultus, results from a sudden, simultaneous, vigorous contraction of the diaphragm and inspiratory muscles, accompanied by closure of the glottis. Hiccups can be associated with bradyarrhythmias. The mechanism of this phenomenon is likely hiccup-induced Valsalva maneuver and increased parasympathetic tone. We present a case of a patient with violent hiccups producing a bradyarrhythmia.

[WestJEM. 2009;10:176-177.]

Reimbursement for Emergency Department Electrocardiography and Radiograph Interpretations: What Is It Worth for the Emergency Physician

Background: Physician reimbursement laws for diagnostic interpretive services require that only those services provided contemporaneously and /or contribute directly to patient care can be billed for. Despite these regulations, cardiologists and radiologists in many hospitals continue to bill for ECG and plain film diagnostic services performed in the emergency department (ED). The reimbursement value of this care, which is disconnected in time and place from the ED patient encounter, is unknown. In a California community ED with a 32,000 annual census, the emergency physicians (EPs) alone, by contract, bill for all ECG readings and plain film interpretations when the radiologists are not available to provide contemporaneous readings.

Objectives: To determine the impact of this billing practice on actual EP reimbursement we undertook an analysis that allows calculation of physician reimbursement from billing data.

Methods: An IRB-approved analysis of 12 months of billing data cleansed of all patient identifiers was undertaken for 2003. From the data we created a descriptive study with itemized breakdown of reimbursement for radiograph and ECG interpretive services (procedures) and the gross resultant physician income.

Results: In 2003 EPs at this hospital treated patients during 32,690 ED visits. Total group income in 2003 for radiographs was $173,555 and $91,025 for ECGs, or $19/EP hour and $6/EP hour respectively. For the average full-time EP, the combined total is $2537/month or $30,444 per annum, per EP. This is $8/ED visit (averaged across all patients).

Conclusion: As EP-reimbursement is challenged by rising malpractice premiums, uninsured patients, HMO contracts, unfunded government mandates and state budgetary shortfalls, EPs are seeking to preserve their patient services and resultant income. They should also be reimbursed for those services and the liability that they incur. The reimbursement value of ECGs and plain film interpretations to the practicing EP is substantial. In the ED studied, it represents $30,444 gross income per full-time EP annually. Plain film interpretation services produce three times the hourly revenue of ECG reading at the hospital studied.

[WestJEM. 2009;10:178-183.]

Overcoming Barriers to the Use of Osteopathic Manipulation Techniques in the Emergency Department

Background: Osteopathic Manipulation Techniques (OMT) have been shown to be effective therapeutic modalities in various clinical settings, but appear to be underutilized in the emergency department (ED) setting.

Objective: To examine barriers to the use of OMT in the ED and provide suggestions to ameliorate these barriers.

Methods: Literature review

Results: While the medical literature cites numerous obstacles to the use of OMT in the ED setting, most can be positively addressed through education, careful planning, and ongoing research into use of these techniques. Recent prospective clinical trials of OMT have demonstrated the utility of these modalities.

Conclusion: Osteopathic Manipulation Techniques are useful therapeutic modalities that could be utilized to a greater degree in the ED. As the number of osteopathic emergency physicians increases, the opportunity to employ these techniques should increase.

[WestJEM. 2009;10:184-189.]

Iatrogenic Digital Compromise with Tubular Dressings

Objective: This case report describes a digit amputation resulting from an improperly applied tubular dressing. The safe application of digital tubular dressings, and the rationale behind it, is detailed to raise emergency physician (EP) awareness.

Methods: We present a case report of a recent iatrogenic-induced digit ischemia caused by improperly applied tube gauze. We review the literature on the subject and the likely sources of poor outcomes presented. The proper application of tubular gauze dressings is then outlined.

Conclusion: EPs and emergency department personnel must be educated on the safe application of tubular gauze dressings to avoid dire outcomes associated with improper applications.

[WestJEM. 2009;10:190-192.]

Methemoglobinemia and Sulfhemoglobinemia in Two Pediatric Patients after Ingestion of Hydroxylamine Sulfate

This case report describes two pediatric cases of immediate oxygen desaturation from methemoglobinemia and sulfhemoglobinemia after one sip from a plastic water bottle containing hydroxylamine sulfate used by a relative to clean shoes. Supplemental oxygen and two separate doses of methylene blue given to one of the patients had no effect on clinical symptoms or pulse oximetry. The patients were admitted to the pediatric Intensive Care Unit (ICU) with subsequent improvement after exchange transfusion. Endoscopy showed ulcer formation in one case and sucralafate was initiated; both patients were discharged after a one-week hospital stay. [WestJEM. 2009;10:197-201.]