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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Volume 14, Issue 5, 2013

Diagnostic Acumen

Bronchopleural Fistula

[West J Emerg Med. 2013;14(5):409-410.]

Uterine Arteriovenous Malformation with Sudden Heavy Vaginal Hemmorhage

Dysfunctional uterine bleeding (DUB) is a common presentation in the emergency department and has a wide differential. Most presentations of DUB are in hemodynamically stable patients and can be evaluated as an outpatient. Uterine arteriovenous malformation (AVM) is one presentation that can result in a life-threatening medical emergency with unexpected sudden and massive vaginal bleeding. We describe a case of a 24-year-old female with sudden heavy vaginal bleeding requiring a blood transfusion, ultrasound evidence of uterine AVM, and a treatment method of expectant management using an intrauterine device in an attempt to preserve fertility. [West J Emerg Med. 2013;14(5):411-414.]

Appendicitis Diagnosed by Emergency Physician Transvaginal Ultrasound: Case Series

Lower abdominal pain in females of reproductive age continues to be a diagnostic dilemma for the emergency physician (EP). Point-of-care ultrasound (US) allows for rapid, accurate, and safe evaluation of abdominal and pelvic pain in both the pregnant and non-pregnant patient. We present 3 cases of females presenting with right lower quadrant and adnexal tenderness where transvaginal ultrasonography revealed acute appendicitis. The discussion focuses on the use of EP-performed transvaginal US in gynecologic and intra-abdominal pathology and discusses the use of a staged approach to evaluation using US and computed tomography, as indicated. [West J Emerg Med. 2013;14(5):415-418.]

  • 1 supplemental video

Cephalohematoma in a Patient with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome

Ehlers-Danlos syndrome is a rarely encountered connective tissue disorder characterized by skin hyper-elasticity, joint hyper-flexibility, and vasculature fragility. We report a 41-year-old female presenting with scalp swelling following minor head trauma. The patient presented with a large cephalohematoma that despite compressive measures and Factor IX administration continued to progress, necessitating transfer for definitive surgical intervention. The patient underwent surgical evacuation of approximately 1 liter of blood, followed by drain placement and compression dressing. This case underscores the importance for emergency physicians to recognize the potential vascular catastrophes these patients may present with following even minor injury. [West J Emerg Med. 2013;14(5):419-420.]


Early Presentation of Buried Bumper Syndrome

Percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG) is a relatively safe and effective method of providing nutrition to patients with neurologic deficits or proximal gastrointestinal pathology. Complications that follow this common procedure include dislodgement, dysfunction, infection and aspiration. The “Buried Bumper Syndrome” (BBS) is an infrequent and late complication of PEG tubes that can result in tube dysfunction, gastric perforation, bleeding, peritonitis or death. The emergency physician should be aware of historical and exam features that suggest BBS and distinguish it from other more benign PEG-tube related complaints. We report a case of a woman presenting with BBS three weeks after having a PEG tube placed. [West J Emerg Med. 2013;14(5):421-423.]

“I Can’t Walk!” Acute Thrombosis of Descending Aorta Causing Paraplegia

A 50-year-old man presented to the emergency department (ED) with acute, bilateral lower extremity weakness and loss of sensation, as well as absent pulses bilaterally. Computed tomography angiography showed complete occlusion of the aorta below the inferior mesenteric artery, extending to the iliac bifurcations. Echocardiographic findings showed severe systolic dysfunction (ejection fraction of 15%) and cryptic cardiogenic shock in spite of stable vital signs. Prior to early operative intervention, an early goal-oriented hemodynamic strategy of shock management resulted in the resolution of motor and sensory deficits. After definitive surgical intervention, the patient was discharged neurologically intact. Acute aortic occlusion is frequently accompanied by myocardial dysfunction, which can be from mild to severe. The most severe form can even occur with normalvital signs or occult cardiogenic shock. Early detection and goal-directed preoperative hemodynamic optimization, along with surgical intervention in the ED, is required to optimize outcomes. [West J Emerg Med. 2013;14(5):424–427.]

Pylephlebitis in a Previously Healthy Emergency Department Patient With Appendicitis

Pylephlebitis is a septic thrombophlebitis of the portal vein that is associated with multiple suppurative abdominal infections, such as diverticulitis, appendicitis, cholangitis, and cholecystitis. We describe a case of pylephlebitis in a patient with fever and diffuse, poorly localized abdominal pain who was eventually diagnosed with appendicitis. We aim to increase awareness of this condition among emergency physicians, as timely initiation of antibiotics and expedited surgical resection may improve outcomes in this potentially fatal disease. [West J Emerg Med. 2013;14(5):428–430.]

Vaginal Foreign Bodies and Child Sexual Abuse: An Important Consideration

Vaginal foreign bodies are a complaint occasionally encountered in pediatric clinics and emergency departments, and when pediatric patients present with a vaginal foreign body sexual abuse may not be considered. We describe two children with vaginal foreign bodies who were found to have been sexually abused. Each child had a discharge positive for a sexually transmitted infection despite no disclosure or allegation of abuse. We recommend that all pre-pubertal girls who present with a vaginal foreign body should be considered as possible victims of sexual abuse and should receive a sexual abuse history and testing for sexually transmitted infections. [West J Emerg Med. 2013;14(5):437–439.]

Complication with Intraosseous Access: Inquiry of Scandinavian Users’ Experiences

Introduction: Intraosseous access (IO) is indicated if vascular access cannot be quickly established during resuscitation. Complication rates are estimated to be low, based on small patient series, model or cadaver studies, and case reports. However, user experience with IO use in real-life emergency situations might differ from the results in the controlled environment of model studies and small patient series. We performed a survey of IO use in real-life emergency situations to assess users’ experiences of complications.

Methods: An online questionnaire was sent to Scandinavian emergency physicians, anesthesiologists and pediatricians.

Results: 1,802 clinical cases of IO use was reported by n=386 responders. Commonly reported complications with establishing IO access were patient discomfort/pain (7.1%), difficulties with penetration of periosteum with IO needle (10.3%), difficulties with aspiration of bone marrow (12.3%), and bended/broken needle (4.0%). When using an established IO access the reported complications were difficulties with injection fluid and drugs after IO insertion (7.4%), slow infusion (despite use of pressure bag) (8.8%), displacement after insertion (8.5%), and extravasation (3.7%). Compartment syndrome and osteomyelitis occurred in 0.6% and 0.4% of cases respectively.

Conclusion: In users’ recollection of real-life IO use, perceived complications were more frequent than usually reported from model studies. The perceived difficulties with using IO could affect the willingness of medical staff to use IO. Therefore, user experience should be addressed both in education of how to use, and research and development of IOs. [West J Emerg Med. 2013;14(5):440–443.]

Uterine Rupture due to Invasive Metastatic Gestational Trophoblastic Neoplasm

While complete molar pregnancies are rare, they are wrought with a host of potential complications to include invasive gestational trophoblastic neoplasia. Persistent gestational trophoblastic disease following molar pregnancy is a potentially fatal complication that must be recognized early and treated aggressively for both immediate and long-term recovery. We present the case of a 21-year-old woman with abdominal pain and presyncope 1 month after a molar pregnancy with a subsequent uterine rupture due to invasive gestational trophoblastic neoplasm. We will discuss the complications of molar pregnancies including the risks and management of invasive, metastatic gestational trophoblastic neoplasia. [West J Emerg Med. 2013;14(5):444–447.]

Bullous Lung Disease

[West J Emerg Med. 2013;14(5):450–451.]

Asymmetrical Bilateral Hip Dislocation

[West J Emerg Med. 2013;14(5):452–452.]

Predictive Value of Initial Triage Vital Signs for Critically Ill Older Adults

Introduction: Triage of patients is critical to patient safety, yet no clear information exists as to the utility of initial vital signs in identifying critically ill older emergency department (ED) patients. The objective of this study is to evaluate a set of initial vital sign thresholds as predictors of severe illness and injury among older adults presenting to the ED.

Methods: We reviewed all visits by patients aged 75 and older seen during 2007 at an academic ED serving a large community of older adults. Patients’ charts were abstracted for demographic and clinical information including vital signs, via automated electronic methods. We used bivariate analysis to investigate the relationship between vital sign abnormalities and severe illness or injury, defined as intensive care unit (ICU) admission or ED death. In addition, we calculated likelihood ratios for normal and abnormal vital signs in predicting severe illness or injury.

Results: 4,873 visits by patients aged 75 and above were made to the ED during 2007, and of these 3,848 had a complete set of triage vital signs. For these elderly patients, the sensitivity and specificity of an abnormal vital sign taken at triage for predicting death or admission to an ICU were 73% (66,81) and 50% (48,52) respectively (positive likelihood ratio 1.47 (1.30,1.60); negative likelihood ratio 0.54 (0.30,0.60).

Conclusion: Emergency provider assessment and triage scores that rely primarily on initial vital signs are likely to miss a substantial portion of critically ill older adults. [West J Emerg Med. 2013;14(5):453–460.]


Sexual Assault Training in Emergency Medicine Residencies: A Survey of Program Directors

Introduction: There is currently no standard forensic medicine training program for emergency medicine residents. In the advent of sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) programs aimed at improving the quality of care for sexual assault victims, it is also unclear how these programs impact emergency medicine (EM) resident forensic medicine training. The purpose of this study was togather information on EM residency programs’ training in the care of sexual assault patients and determine what impact SANE programs may have on the experience of EM resident training from the perspective of residency program directors (PDs).

Methods: This was a cross-sectional survey. The study cohort was all residency PDs from approved EM residency training programs who completed a closed-response self-administered survey electronically.

Results: We sent surveys to 152 PDs, and 71 responded for an overall response rate of 47%. Twenty-two PDs (31%) reported that their residency does not require procedural competency for the sexual assault exam, and 29 (41%) reported their residents are required only to observe sexual assault exam completion to demonstrate competency. Residency PDs were asked how their programs established resident requirements for sexual assault exams. Thirty-seven PDs (52%) did not know how their sexual assault exam requirement was established.

Conclusion: More than half of residency PDs did not know how their sexual assault guidelines were established, and few were based upon recommendations from the literature. There is no clear consensus as to how PDs view the effect of SANE programs on resident competency with the sexual assault exam. This study highlights both a need for increased awareness of EM resident sexual assault education nationally and also a possible need for a training curriculum defining guidelines forEM residents performing sexual assault exams. [West J Emerg Med. 2013;14(5):461–466.]

Emergency Physicians' Knowledge of Cannabinoid Designer Drugs

Introduction: The use of synthetic drugs of abuse in the United States has grown in the last few years, with little information available on how much physicians know about these drugs and how they are treating patients using them. The objective of this study was to assess emergency physician (EP) knowledge of synthetic cannabinoids (SC).

Methods: A self-administered internet-based survey of resident and attending EPs at a large urban emergency department (ED) was administered to assess familiarity with the terms Spice or K2 and basic knowledge of SC, and to describe some practice patterns when managing SC intoxication in the ED.

Results: Of the 83 physicians invited to participate, 73 (88%) completed surveys. The terms “Spice” and “K2” for SC were known to 25/73 (34%) and 36/73 (49%) of respondents. Knowledge of SC came most commonly (72%) from non-medical sources, with lay publications and the internet providing most respondents with information. Among those with previous knowledge of synthetic cannabinoids, 25% were not aware that SC are synthetic drugs, and 17% did not know they are chemically most similar to marijuana. Among all participants, 80% felt unprepared caring for a patient in the ED who had used synthetic cannabinoids.

Conclusion: Clinically active EPs are unfamiliar with synthetic cannabinoids. Even those who stated they had heard of synthetic cannabinoids answered poorly on basic knowledge questions. More education is needed among EPs of all ages and levels of training on synthetic cannabinoids. [West J Emerg Med. 2013;14(5):467–470.]

English-based Pediatric Emergency Medicine Software Improves Physician Test Performance on Common Pediatric Emergencies: A Multicenter Study in Vietnam

Introduction: Global health agencies and the Vietnam Ministry of Health have identified pediatric emergency care and health information technology as high priority goals. Clinical decision support (CDS) software provides physicians with access to current literature to answer clinical queries, but there is limited impact data in developing countries. We hypothesized that Vietnamese physicians will demonstrate improved test performance on common pediatric emergencies using CDS technologies despite being in English.

Methods: This multicenter, prospective, pretest-posttest study was conducted in 11 Vietnamese hospitals enrolled a convenience sample of physicians who attended an 80-minute software training on a pediatric CDS software (PEMSoft). Two multiple-choice exams (A, B) were administered before and after the session. Participants, who received Test A as a pretest, received Test B as a posttest, and vice versa. Participants used the CDS software for the posttest. The primary outcome measure was the mean percentage difference in physician scores between the pretest and posttest, as calculated by a paired, two-tailed t-test.

Results: For the 203 participants, the mean pretest, posttest, and improvement scores were 37% (95% CI: 35-38%), 70% (95% CI: 68-72%), and 33% (95% CI: 30-36%), respectively, with p<0.0001. This represents an 89% improvement over baseline. Subgroup analysis of practice setting, clinical experience, and comfort level with written English and computers showed that all subgroups equivalently improved their test scores.

Conclusion: After brief training, Vietnamese physicians can effectively use an English-based CDS software based on improved performance on a written clinical exam. Given this rapid improvement, CDS technologies may serve as a transformative tool in resource-poor environments. [West J Emerg Med. 2013;14(5):471–476.]

Emergency Medicine in Guyana: Lessons from Developing the Country’s First Degree-conferring Residency Program

Introduction: Academic departments of emergency medicine are becoming increasingly involved in assisting with the development of long-term emergency medicine training programs in low and middle-income countries. This article presents our 10-year experience working with local partners to improve emergency medical care education in Guyana.

Methods: The Vanderbilt Department of Emergency Medicine has collaborated with the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation on the development of Emergency Medicine skills followed by the implementation of an emergency medicine residency training program. Residency development included a needs assessment, proposed curriculum, internal and external partnerships, University of Guyana and Ministry of Health approval, and funding.

Results: In our experience, we have found that our successful program initiation was due in large part to the pre-existing interest of several local partners and followed by long-term involvement within the country. As a newer specialty without significant local expertise, resident educational needs mandated a locally present full time EM trained attending to serve as the program director. Both external and internal funding was required to achieve this goal. Local educational efforts were best supplemented by robust distance learning. The program was developed to conform to local academic standards and to train the residents to the level of consultant physicians. Despite the best preparations, future challenges remain.

Conclusion: While every program has unique challenges, it is likely many of the issues we havefaced are generalizable to other settings and will be useful to other programs considering or currentlyconducting this type of collaborative project. [West J Emerg Med. 2013;14(5):477–481.]

Prehospital Care

Electronic Prehospital Records are Often Unavailable for Emergency Department Medical Decision Making

Introduction: To determine emergency physician (EP) opinions of prehospital patient care reports (PCRs) and whether such reports are available at the time of emergency department (ED) medical decision-making.

Methods: Prospective, cross-sectional, electronic web-based survey of EPs regarding preferences and availability of prehospital PCRs at the time of ED medical decision-making.

Results: We sent the survey to 1,932 EPs via 4 American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) email lists. As a result, 228 (11.8%) of email list members from 31 states and the District of Columbia completed the survey. Most respondents preferred electronic prehospital PCRs as opposed to handwritten prehospital PCRs (52.2% [95% confidence interval (CI): 49.1, 55.3] vs. 17.1% [95%CI: 11.7, 22.5]). The remaining respondents (30.5% [95%CI: 26.0, 35.0]) had no preference or had seen only one type of PCR. Of the respondents, 45.6% [95%CI: 42.1, 48.7] stated PCRs were “very important” while 43.0% [95% CI: 39.3, 46.7] rated PCRs as “important” in their ED practice. Most respondents (79.6% [95%CI: 76.5, 82.7]) reported electronic prehospital PCRs were available ≤50% of the time for medical decision-making while 20.4% [95%CI: 9.2, 31.6] reported that electronic prehospital PCRs were available > 50% of the time (P=0.00). A majority of participants (77.6% [95%CI: 74.5, 80.7]) reported that handwritten prehospital PCRs were available ≥ 50% while 22.4% [95%CI: 11.8, 33.0] of the time for medical decision-making (P=0.00).

Conclusion: EPs in this study felt that prehospital PCRs were important to their ED practice and preferred electronic prehospital PCRs over handwritten PCRs. However, most electronic prehospital PCRs were unavailable at the time of ED medical decision-making. Although handwritten prehospital PCRs were more readily available, legibility and accuracy were reported concerns. This study suggest that strategies should be devised to improve the overall accuracy of PCRs and assure that electronic prehospital PCRs are delivered to the receiving ED in time for consideration in ED medical decision-making. [West J Emerg Med. 2013;14(5):482–488.]

  • 1 supplemental PDF

Reducing Ambulance Diversion at Hospital and Regional Levels: A Systematic Review of Insights from Simulation Models

Introduction: Optimal solutions for reducing diversion without worsening emergency department (ED) crowding are unclear. We performed a systematic review of published simulation studies to identify: 1) the tradeoff between ambulance diversion and ED wait times; 2) the predicted impact of patient flow interventions on reducing diversion; and 3) the optimal regional strategy for reducing diversion.

Methods: Data Sources: Systematic review of articles using MEDLINE, Inspec, Scopus. Additional studies identified through bibliography review, Google Scholar, and scientific conference proceedings. Study Selection: Only simulations modeling ambulance diversion as a result of ED crowding or inpatient capacity problems were included. Data extraction: Independent extraction by two authors using predefined data fields.

Results: We identified 5,116 potentially relevant records; 10 studies met inclusion criteria. In models that quantified the relationship between ED throughput times and diversion, diversion was found to only minimally improve ED waiting room times. Adding holding units for inpatient boarders and ED-based fast tracks, improving lab turnaround times, and smoothing elective surgery caseloads were found to reduce diversion considerably. While two models found a cooperative agreement between hospitals is necessary to prevent defensive diversion behavior by a hospital when a nearby hospital goes on diversion, one model found there may be more optimal solutions for reducing region wide wait times than a regional ban on diversion.

Conclusion: Smoothing elective surgery caseloads, adding ED fast tracks as well as holding units for inpatient boarders, improving ED lab turnaround times, and implementing regional cooperative agreements among hospitals. [West J Emerg Med. 2013;14(5):489-498.]

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In-flight Medical Emergencies

Introduction: Research and data regarding in-flight medical emergencies during commercial air travel are lacking. Although volunteer medical professionals are often called upon to assist, there are no guidelines or best practices to guide their actions. This paper reviews the literature quantifying and categorizing in-flight medical incidents, discusses the unique challenges posed by the in-flight environment, evaluates the legal aspects of volunteering to provide care, and suggests an approach to managing specific conditions at 30,000 feet.

Methods: We conducted a MEDLINE search using search terms relevant to aviation medical emergencies and flight physiology. The reference lists of selected articles were reviewed to identify additional studies.

Results: While incidence studies were limited by data availability, syncope, gastrointestinal upset, and respiratory complaints were among the most common medical events reported. Chest pain and cardiovascular events were commonly associated with flight diversion.

Conclusion: When in-flight medical emergencies occur, volunteer physicians should have knowledge about the most common in-flight medical incidents, know what is available in on-board emergency medical kits, coordinate their therapy with the flight crew and remote resources, and provide care within their scope of practice. [West J Emerg Med. 2013;14(5):499–504.]

Technology in Emergency Care

Ultrasound-guided Intraarticular Hip Injection for Osteoarthritis Pain in the Emergency Department

Ultrasound-guided intraarticular hip corticosteroid injections may be useful for emergency care providers treating patients with painful exacerbations of osteoarthritis of the hip. Corticosteroid injection is widely recommended as a first-line treatment for painful osteoarthritis of the hip. Bedside ultrasound is readily available in most emergency departments; however, using ultrasound to guide therapeutic hip injections has not yet been described in emergency practice. Herein, we present the first description of a successful emergency physician-performed ultrasound-guided hip injection of local anesthetic and corticosteroid for pain control in a patient with an acute exacerbation of osteoarthritis. [West J Emerg Med. 2013;14(5):505–508.]

Prognostic Value of Emergency Physician-performed Echocardiography in Patients with Acute Pulmonary Thromboembolism

Introduction: Pulmonary embolism (PE) is a life-threatening illness with high morbidity and mortality. Echocardiography (ECG) plays an important role in the early identification of right ventricular (RV) dysfunction, making it a helpful tool in identifying hemodynamically stable patients affected by PE with a higher mortality risk. The purpose of this study was to evaluate if one or more ECG indexes could predict a short-term evolution towards RV dysfunction.

Methods: We selected all patients consecutively admitted to the Careggi Hospital Emergency Department with the clinical suspicion of PE, confirmed by computed tomography angiography prior to enrollment. Subsequently, properly trained emergency physicians acquired a complete ECG to measure RV morphological and functional indices. For each patient, we recorded if he or she received a fibrinolytic treatment, a surgical embolectomy or heparin therapy during the emergency department (ED) stay. Then, every patient was re-evaluated with ECG, by the same physician, after 1 week in our intensive observation unit and 1 month as outpatient in our ED regional referral center for PE.

Results: From 2002 to 2007, 120 consecutive patients affected by PE were evaluated by echocardiography at the Careggi Hospital ED. Nine patients (8%) were treated with thrombolytic therapy. Six died within 1 week and 4 abandoned the study, while the remaining 110 survived and were re-evaluated by ECG after 1 week and 1 month. The majority of the echocardiographic RV indexes improve mostly in the first 7 days: Acceleration Time (AT) from 78±14 ms to 117±14 ms (p<0.001), Diameter of Inferior Vena Cava (DIVC) from 25±6 mm to 19±5 mm (p<0.001), Tricuspid Annular Plane Systolic Excursion (TAPSE) from 16±6 mm to 20±6 mm (p<0.001). Pulmonary Artery Systolic Pressure (PASP) showed a remarkable decrease from 59±26 mmHg to 37±9 mmHg, (p<0.001). The measurements of the transverse diameters of both ventricles and the respective ratio showed a progressive normalization with a reduction of RV diameter, an increase of Left Ventricular (LV) diameter and a decrease of RV/LV ratio over time. To evaluate the RV function, the study population was divided into 3 groups based on the TAPSE and PASP mean values at the admission: Group 1 (68 patients) (TAPSE+/ PASP-), Group 2 (12 patients) (TAPSE-/PASP-), and Group 3 (30 patients) (TAPSE-/PASP+). Greater values of AT, minor RV diameter, greater LV diameter and a lesser RV/LV ratio were associated with a short-term improvement of TAPSE in the Group 2. Instead, in Group 3 the only parameter associated with short-term improvement of TAPSE and PASP was the treatment with thrombolytic therapy (p<0.0001).

Conclusion: Greater values of AT, minor RV diameter, greater LV diameter and a lesser RV/LV ratio were associated with a short-term improvement of TAPSE-/PASP- values. Patients with evidence of RV dysfunction (TAPSE-/PASP+), may benefit from thrombolytic therapy to improve a short- term RV function. After 1 month, also a decreased DIVC predicted improved RV function. [West J Emerg Med. 2013;14(5):509–517.]

Emergency Department Access

Emergency Department Crowding and Time to Antibiotic Administration in Febrile Infants

Introduction: Early antibiotic administration is recommended in newborns presenting with febrile illness to emergency departments (ED) to avert the sequelae of serious bacterial infection. Although ED crowding has been associated with delays in antibiotic administration in a dedicated pediatric ED, the majority of children that receive emergency medical care in the U.S. present to EDs that treat both adult and pediatric emergencies. The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between time to antibiotic administration in febrile newborns and crowding in a general ED serving both an adult and pediatric population.

Methods: We conducted a retrospective chart review of 159 newborns presenting to a general ED between 2005 and 2011 and analyzed the association between time to antibiotic administration and ED occupancy rate at the time of, prior to, and following infant presentation to the ED.

Results: We observed delayed and variable time to antibiotic administration and found no association between time to antibiotic administration and occupancy rate prior to, at the time of, or following infant presentation (P > 0.05). ED time to antibiotic administration was not associated with hospital length of stay, and there was no inpatient mortality.

Conclusion: Delayed and highly variable time to antibiotic treatment in febrile newborns was common but unrelated to ED crowding in the general ED study site. Guidelines for time to antibiotic administration in this population may reduce variability in ED practice patterns. [West J Emerg Med. 2013;14(5):518-524.]

Need for Intervention in Families Presenting to the Emergency Department with Multiple Children as Patients

Introduction: To assess if families presenting to a pediatric emergency department (PED) with multiple children as patients require interventions at the same rate as families presenting with a single child.

Methods: This is a retrospective chart review looking at PED encounters for families presenting with single children versus multiple children as patients. Patients presenting with siblings were retrospectively selected from the electronic tracking board, and we randomly selected age/gender matched single-patient controls from a comparable time period. The primary outcome was a comparison of visit acuity between families presenting with single versus multiple children, with the hypothesis that families presenting with multiple children as patients would require less utilization of services (as a surrogate for acuity). Admission, intravenous fluid administration (IVF), planned observation, subspecialty consultation, performance of procedures, laboratories and radiographs, administration of prescription medications, and prescription medications for home were all recorded and compared via chi-squared comparison. We considered 5 interventions (admission, subspecialty consultation, performance of procedures, IVF administration, and observation > 6 hours) “critical interventions” and compared them separately.

Results: In our sample of 83 patients from 41 families registering multiple children and 248 singleton controls, we found a significant difference in the percentage of patients requiring critical interventions (4.8% versus 32.5%, P < 0.0001).

Conclusion: Families presenting with multiple children concurrently to an ED require critical interventions at a much lower rate than children presenting as single patients. Many of these families could be well-served at an urgent care or primary care provider. [West J Emerg Med. 2013;14(5):525–528.]

Societal Impact on Emergency Care

Racial Disparity in Duration of Patient Visits to the Emergency Department: Teaching versus Non-teaching Hospitals

Introduction: The sources of racial disparity in duration of patients’ visits to emergency departments (EDs) have not been documented well enough for policymakers to distinguish patient-related factors from hospital- or area-related factors. This study explores the racial disparity in duration of routine visits to EDs at teaching and non-teaching hospitals.

Methods: We performed retrospective data analyses and multivariate regression analyses to investigate the racial disparity in duration of routine ED visits at teaching and non-teaching hospitals. The Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP) State Emergency Department Databases (SEDD) were used in the analyses. The data include 4.3 million routine ED visits encountered in Arizona, Massachusetts, and Utah during 2008. We computed duration for each visit by taking the difference between admission and discharge times.

Results: The mean duration for a routine ED visit was 238 minutes at teaching hospitals and 175 minutes at non-teaching hospitals. There were significant variations in duration of routine ED visits across race groups at teaching and non-teaching hospitals. The risk-adjusted results show that the mean duration of routine ED visits for Black/African American and Asian patients when compared to visits for white patients was shorter by 10.0 and 3.4%, respectively, at teaching hospitals; and longer by 3.6 and 13.8%, respectively, at non-teaching hospitals. Hispanic patients, on average, experienced 8.7% longer ED stays when compared to white patients at non-teaching hospitals.

Conclusion: There is significant racial disparity in the duration of routine ED visits, especially in non-teaching hospitals where non-White patients experience longer ED stays compared to white patients. The variation in duration of routine ED visits at teaching hospitals when compared to non-teaching hospitals was smaller across race groups. [West J Emerg Med. 2013;14(5):529–541.]

Practice Variability

Warming Intravenous Fluids for Improved Patient Comfort in the Emergency Department: A Pilot Crossover Randomized Controlled Trial

Introduction: The purpose of this study was to test if intravenous (IV) fluids warmed to body temperature are associated with greater patient comfort than room temperature IV fluids in adult emergency department (ED) patients.

Methods: This was a pilot double-blind, crossover, randomized controlled trial. Enrolled subjects sequentially received boluses of body temperature (36ºC) and room temperature (22 ºC) IV fluid, with the order of boluses randomized. Each subject’s level of discomfort was assessed prior to and after each bolus, using a 10 cm visual analog scale (Discomfort VAS), with higher scores indicating greater discomfort. We calculated the change in Discomfort VAS score associated with body temperature IV fluid (ΔVASbody) and room temperature IV fluid (ΔVASroom) by subtracting the score reported before the bolus from the score reported after that bolus. We compared changes in Discomfort VAS score with body temperature and room temperature IV fluid using the Wilcoxon matched-pairs signed-rank test.

Results: Twenty-seven subjects were included. Treatment with body temperature IV fluid was associated with a significant decrease in discomfort (median ΔVASbody: -0.7 cm; interquartile range (IQR): -4.5 cm to +0.4 cm) compared to room temperature IV fluid (median ΔVASroom: +1.2 cm; interquartile range: -0.1 cm to + 3.6 cm) (P = 0.001).

Conclusion: In this small trial of adult ED patients, infusing IV fluids warmed to body temperature was associated with improved comfort compared to standard, room temperature IV fluids. [West J Emerg Med. 2013;14(5):542–546.]

Emergency Department Operations

Perception of Noise by Emergency Department Nurses

Introduction: Noise in the emergency department (ED) may be perceived to be high by both patients and nurses alike. This increased noise level is hypothesized to be responsible for communication interference and subsequent disruption of complex procedures and decision-making. The objective of this study is to quantify ambient noise level in an ED while obtaining coincident subjective surveys from nurses in the assessment of actual versus perceived noise.

Methods: Data collected from surveys of ED nurses on each of 3 different dates revealed that sound levels within the selected ED were consistently at or below 70 decibels (dB) of sound as measured by a sound level meter. This level of sound is of the same decibel of normal conversation at a 3-5 foot distance. Nurses surveyed overwhelmingly rated noise as “low” or “not loud” irrespective of a variance (though predominantly within a 10 dB range) in actual sound decibel measurements.

Results: Years of experience of work within emergency departments proved the most consistent predictor of nurses’ opinions on the frequency with which noise levels within the ED were louder than they should be, with more experienced nurses all ranking noise levels as “frequently” or “always” louder than they should be.

Conclusion: Individual variance existed in how nurses felt that noise level affected work function. ED nurses’ perception of noise is perceived to be low and generally not interfering with their cognitive function. [West J Emerg Med. 2013;14(5):547–550.]

Measuring Power in an Emergency Department to Improve Processes and Decrease the Length of Stay Hours to their Optimum Value

Many emergency departments (EDs) compare themselves to national productivity benchmarks, such as the average patients/hour or relative value units (RVUs)/hour. Making these comparisons does not provide a tool to determine which processes need improvement, most urgently, within the ED to improve efficiency. Furthermore, there has been no clear means to determine how to set reasonable goals based on the capabilities of the particular ED under study. Determining the power of a process is a tool that can provide the ED with these missing pieces of information. [West J Emerg Med. 2013;14(5):551–554.]

Ethical and Legal Issues

When a Patient Declines Curative Care: Management of a Ruptured Aortic Aneurysm

The management of major vascular emergencies in the emergency department (ED) involves rapid, aggressive resuscitation followed by emergent definitive surgery. However, for some patients this traditional approach may not be consistent with their goals and values. We explore the appropriate way to determine best treatment practices when patients elect to forego curative care in the ED, while reviewing such a case. We present the case of a 72-year-old patient who presented to the ED with a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm, but refused surgery. We discuss the transition of the patient from a curative to a comfort care approach with appropriate direct referral to hospice from the ED. Using principles of autonomy, decision-making capacity, informed consent, prognostication, and goals-of-care, ED clinicians are best able to align their approach with patients’ goals and values. [West J Emerg Med. 2013;14(5):555–558.]

Table of Contents

Table of Contents September 2013

Table of Contents September 2013


Masthead September 2013

Masthead September 2013