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Current management of moderate to severe traumatic pneumothoraces: a survey of emergency clinicians

Abstract

Background Traumatic pneumothoraces are present in one-fifth of multiple trauma victims. Traditional teaching mandates the insertion of a chest drain in the majority of cases. However, recent observational evidence suggests a trend towards conservative management. The aim of this survey was to understand current emergency medicine (EM) practice in placing chest drains for the management of moderate to severe traumatic pneumothoraces.

Methodology The survey was developed through expert consensus and sent electronically to senior EM doctors in 21 sites internationally. It described six clinical/imaging vignettes asking ‘how likely are you to insert an intercostal chest drain to manage the pneumothorax in ED?’. A five-point response was available from very unlikely to very likely. All pneumothoraces were >1 cm on imaging, but mechanism, physiology and need for ventilation varied.

Results Of a potential 606 respondents, 222 responses were received (37% response rate). Respondents were from five different countries, with the majority qualified for more than 10 years (median; 18 years). Within each scenario, there was a large variation in responses with the exception of tension pneumothorax. For vignettes without tension pneumothorax, there was a range from 52% (non-compromised 1 cm pneumothorax in a ventilated patient) to 89% (open pneumothorax with minimal clinical compromise) in respondents reporting that they would be likely or very likely to insert a chest drain.

Conclusion There is considerable variation in clinical practice involving both conservative and invasive strategies in the treatment of moderate to severe traumatic pneumothoraces. This suggests clinical equipoise for interventional trials to determine the optimal management strategy for this patient group.

  • trauma
  • chest
  • pneumothorax
  • management
  • emergency department management

Data availability statement

All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplementary information.

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