The Dangerous Little Details

A new bit of research is out looking at paediatric intubation in the prehospital and retrieval setting. Picking it up and turning it this way, that way and all around, here’s Dr Andrew Weatherall. 

Advanced prehospital practitioners that I’ve met have some pretty common traits. They are pretty comfortable around things that other people might find chaotic. They often have pretty strong opinions on food and coffee. Not necessarily even on good food either. I’ve been given connoisseur-level education on various take away options. Most importantly, they are appropriately bananas about doing a good job for their patients.

That extends to paediatric patients which is obviously excellent. Except we tend not to do our most excellent work when it comes to kids. The reasons for that could fill many a blog post (and maybe we’ll get back to that another time) but kids tend to get less pain relief when faced with similarly painful situations, less interventions even when they’re indicated and we tend to do those procedural things less well.

In 2011 Bankole et al. compared interventions in kids (defined as < 12 years old) and adults with a head injury and a GCS < 15 in New Jersey (there was 102 patients in the kids group matched to 99 adults with equivalent injuries).  69.2% of the kids had some sort of problem with intubation. That was across failed intubation (29.03% vs 2.27% in adults), tube dislodgement (16.12% vs 2.27%), wrong-sized tube (7.45% vs 0%) and multiple attempts (as in over 3 tries) at intubation (6.45% vs 2.27%). A peripheral IV was there in 85.9% of adults but only 65.7% of kids.

In a paper that also commented on relative intubation rates in advanced EMS vs general EMS in the Netherlands, Gerritse et al also commented on analgesia. In their study 77% of kids who really needed some form of analgesia actually received nothing from the general EMS. No kid under the age of 4 received any form of analgesia from the EMS. Not one.

I’m not quoting those papers to say anything other than good practitioners (I have a predisposition to think most of those working at any level of EMS are people trying to do the best job their system and training allow) find kids extra difficult. This patient group provides an additional challenge on top of the storm you already deal with the scene. Like someone started blasting fairy floss into your eyes in the middle of that storm. OK I’m not sure that was the greatest analogy but it’s happened now so maybe we can just agree to move on while also remembering that when you’re a kid fairy floss is pretty great. Mmmm, fairy floss.

Enter the Swiss, purveyors of good chocolate and cheese with holes, with some interesting work that sheds a little extra light on things that even the most advanced practitioners find challenging about little people and airway management.

Let’s Stop and Check the Scenery

Not the mountains or lakes or Large Hadron Collider scenery, the other scenery.

Appearing in SJTREM, the paper comes from a  look at their database between June 2010 and December 2013. Across their 12 bases and one affiliate base they do around 11000 prehospital or interhospital missions per year with their paramedic-doctor teams. I should point out that these advanced teams really have had good training in airway management and specific paeds time. The study looks at any kid under the age of 17 requiring any airway manipulation (not just intubation or supraglottic airway or tracheostomy but bag-mask ventilation as well).

From their pool of 4505 paediatric patients over the 3.5ish years (which if they’re doing around 11000 jobs per year should be around 11-12% of their total workload) the ended up with 425 kids requiring some sort of airway care (9.4% of the paediatric group). A little over half (225) were prehospital cases. From here on in when we talk about intubation it’ll be about prehospital missions because those moving between buildings were already intubated and ventilated.

So what did these top operators find?

Actually It’s Not About the View

In the 215 patients for whom an attempt at endotracheal intubation was attempted, first-pass success was 95.3%. Now, if you’ve dropped by this blog before you might recall Dr Alan Garner discussing whether this is the most important measure. I think that’s a great post, but I don’t think it is meant to be interpreted as “first pass intubation tells us nothing” (Alan can always correct me).

What this number does say is that the challenges in kids aren’t necessarily about getting a view of the cords that is enough to achieve intubation. Only 10 patients (4.7%) were described as inflicting a difficult airway management scenario on the team. 98.6% eventually ended up with a support snorkel in their trachea.

There were 2 children who could not be intubated and ended up oxygenating very nicely with the aid of a supraglottic airway, while one patient with a known “airway issues syndrome” (Goldenhar’s syndrome) couldn’t be either intubated or ventilated but was already at the end of a prolonged arrest situation.

So for advanced EMS providers, maybe it’s not the getting a view/passing the tube part of the procedure that is really at issue. In our own research that touched on this, the intubation success rate was 98.7% of the paediatric patients were successfully intubated while one patient was managed with a laryngeal mask in the prehospital phase.

This fits with the overall truth of paediatric airways: unanticipated difficult laryngoscopy is less common in kids than adults.

So Where’s the Problem?

The problems with paeds airway intervention here are about the details. You may have noticed that people who do subspecialty work in paeds can be a little bit fanatical about details. There’s a reason for this. A smaller airway is less forgiving of the tube that is the wrong size, be it too big or too small. An endotracheal tube that is 1 cm too far in on your 1 year old is proportionally a lot closer to the carina than when the same situation applies to an adult. Add a little flexion or extension and that whole tube can end up visiting new pockets of the bronchial tree.

This is the part that is really well covered in the Swiss study. In the 82.7% where intubation was noted, 82.5% got an adequately sized tube. It was too shrunken to be appropriate in 2.9% and too gargantuan in 14.6% (in the under 1s that rose to 57.5%). Rates were higher if that tube was placed during a CPR scenario.

The depth? Well, if you went off the formulae often mentioned in dispatches, most insertions were deeper than that. And while I can’t seem to find the bit in the results that clarifies this statement, the authors say in the discussion that “Only the placement of the depth marking of the correct Microcuff ET tube … for age between the vocal cords was accurate for all paediatric patients …” (Not familiar with the markings? You could look at an earlier post on this site, here.)

 

Details, Details

I think this is the key message of this study. Lots of things might make you sweat about paediatric airways. I suspect that for most practitioners it is the view and “plastic through the cords” components that cause the stress.

That bit is important, of course, and everyone wants to do that bit well. This study supports the argument that advanced practitioners already do that bit really well. Perhaps in thinking keenly about that bit it’s attention to some details, the sort of details that kids are pretty unforgiving about, that gets in the way of safer paeds airway management.

Stavros Markopoulos
Look at this butterfly. Gets fuzzy on the last few details of the right wing and can’t even butterfly properly.

Things to Take Away

Any research only reveals a very particular part of a story. There are questions left unanswered or things that don’t quite apply to your practice. That doesn’t mean we can’t use those results to reflect on things we do when we deliver our variant of advanced care.

So I’d say there are a few key things suggested by this study:

  • If you’ve trained in paediatric airway management, chances are the intubation itself (at least the getting a view and passing the tube bit) will go well.
  • Really well trained people still find the details challenging. The wrong tube size and the wrong depth of insertion matter in these patients.
  • It might be time to review whether those old formulae are the best option.
  • Knowing your equipment (like where the line on the tube goes) is pretty worthwhile.
  • The tube through the cords isn’t where attention to detail stops. That’s not the moment to ease up.

So we can all get out there, push through the fairy floss, be confident that we’ll get those endotracheal tubes in and start remembering the little details that will produce perfection.

No more fuzzy butterflies.

Notes:

Of course it’s not the fault of the butterfly it’s right wing looks fuzzy. It’s the photographer. Well, actually it’s an amazing photo where the wing is a tiny bit in a different alignment. It’s from flickr Creative Commons via Stavros Markopoulos and is  unaltered.

The source paper link is right here and it’s open access:

Schmidt AR, Ulrich L, Seifert B, Albrecht R ,Spahn DR, Stein P. Ease and difficulty of pre-hospital airway management in 425 paediatric patients treated by a helicopter emergency medical service: a retrospective analysis. Stand J Trauma Resusc Emerg Med. 2016; 24:22. 

I also mentioned a paper we put out there:

Barker CL, Weatherall AD. Prehospital paediatric emergencies treated by an Australian helicopter emergency medical service. 2014; 21:130-5. 

Then there’s the Bankole et al. paper:

Bankole S, Asuncion A, Ross S, et al. First responder performance in pediatric trauma: A comparison with an adult cohort. Pediatr Crit Care Med. 2011;12:e166-70. 

And finally the Gerritse et al. paper which is also open access:

Gerritse BM, Schalkwijk A, Pelzer BJ, Scheffer GJ, Draaisma JM. Advanced medical life support procedures in vitally compromised children by a helicopter emergency medical service. BMC Emerg Med. 2010;10:6.

Addit: After a really helpful comment from Paramedidad the line “In their study 77% of kids who really needed some form of analgesia.” was fixed to read “In their study 77% of kids who really needed some form of analgesia actually received nothing from the general EMS.” 

 

8 thoughts on “The Dangerous Little Details”

  1. What a wonderful post. In the end it is about Expertise and performance Shaping factors. And it is about training. And still it is also about respect and knowing your limits ( e g Goldenhair- syndrome).
    But sufficient pain therapy in children is a must rather than rocket science. Why do we rather get prepared for mass casualty than for ped emergencies.

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    1. Thanks so much (and thanks for reading in the first place). Your comment on the pain stuff really resonates for me.

      I haven’t looked in too much detail for about 3 years but my understanding of the evidence is that kids generally receive less analgesia for the same problems vs adults in most care settings (prehospital, ED, wards etc). Theories around at that time in the literature seemed to be along the lines of ‘practitioners are more nervous of side effects in kids, feel less trained, lack protocols etc’. On the training front maybe it’s about the allure of the exotic and rare (and obviously you need to train for that) over the stuff that is seen as mundane.

      When I read the literature though, I’m often struck by how many more people we help in EMS when we get crews quickly to patients then do stuff we consider basic at a superlative level. Way more than we’ll ever help with the high end, few times a year.

      So I heartily agree. Of course we should all push the limits of the high end stuff where they’ll make a difference to patients but in the meantime we should really try to make the ‘basics’ perfect.

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  2. Hi there,
    Am I missing something, or is the sentence “In their study 77% of kids who really needed some form of analgesia.”, missing some words?

    Great post, thank you!

    Like

  3. Great piece, thank you. Respiratory Therapist in Washington State, USA. I will share some of these insights with my colleagues. While we are not prehospital, we only do about 5 or so pediatric intubations per year at our 200 bed hospital so we share some trepidation about the process. I offered a neonatal/pediatric skills fair last year and intubation was one of the topics.
    Being able to offer information that getting the tube size and tube depth wrong is more likely than not getting a view will help to calm some nerves and focus minds on the important details.
    Thanks!
    David Herbert, RRT

    Like

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