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Tracheal intubation in the emergency department: the Scottish district hospital perspective


Background: Tracheal intubation is the accepted gold standard for emergency department (ED) airway management. It may be performed by both anaesthetists and emergency physicians (EPs), with or without drugs.

Objective: To characterise intubation practice in a busy district general hospital ED in Scotland over 40 months between 2003 and 2006.

Setting: Crosshouse Hospital, a 450-bed district general hospital serving a mixed urban and rural population; annual ED census 58 000 patients.

Methods: Prospective observational study using data collection sheets prepared by the Scottish Trauma Audit Group. Proformas were completed at the time of intubation and checked by investigators. Rapid-sequence induction (RSI) was defined as the co-administration of an induction agent and suxamethonium.

Results: 234 intubations over 40 months, with a mean of 6 per month. EPs attempted 108 intubations (46%). Six patients in cardiac arrest on arrival were intubated without drugs. 29 patients were intubated after a gas induction or non-RSI drug administration. RSI was performed on 199 patients. Patients with trauma constituted 75 (38%) of the RSI group. 29 RSIs (15%) were immediate (required on arrival at the ED) and 154 (77%) were urgent (required within 30 min of arrival at the ED). EPs attempted RSI in 88 (44%) patients and successfully intubated 85 (97%). Anaesthetists attempted RSI in 111 (56%) patients and successfully intubated 108 (97%). Anaesthetists had a higher proportion of good views at first laryngoscopy and there was a trend to a higher rate of successful intubation at the first attempt for anaesthetists. Complication rates were comparable for the two specialties.

Conclusions: Tracheal intubations using RSI in the ED are performed by EPs almost as often as by anaesthetists in this district hospital. Overall success and complication rates are comparable for the two specialties. Laryngoscopy training and the need to achieve intubation at the first (optimum) attempt needs to be emphasised in EP airway training.

  • ED, emergency department
  • EP, emergency physician
  • RSI, rapid-sequence induction

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