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Primary survey Highlights from the January 2015 issue. Mary Dawood, Editor

16 Jan, 15 | by scarley

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A mask tells us more than a face (Editor’s choice)
As ED clinicians we often pride ourselves on recognising the sickest patients by how they look, this skill is tacit and one that is the result of experience and longevity in emergency care. Our psychiatric colleagues have long accumulated significant research into disturbances in affect recognition in patients with mental illness, so I was intrigued to read in this issue a study by Kline and colleagues from the US which explored the variability of facial expression in patients with serious cardio pulmonary disease in emergency care settings. They found that patients with serious cardio pulmonary disease lacked facial expression variability and surprise affect. They suggest that stimulus evoked facial expressions in ED patients with cardiopulmonary symptoms may be a useful component of gestalt pre-test probability assessment. So, there may be some substance in one of the many satirical remarks made by Oscar Wilde that “A mask tells us more than a face” though I doubt his context was clinical.

It’s not the age that matters
Accurately measuring weight in children presenting to the ED is essential and particularly crucial in resuscitation situations where interventions and drug dosages are calculated by weight. The APLS formula, 2× (age+4) has been widely used in western ED’s, but as obesity in our young people is becoming more common and children are taller than previous generations , this formula may fall short in terms of accuracy and patient safety. An alternative formula (3×age)+7 by Luscombe and Owens (LO) has been suggested as more accurate than the APLS formula. Skrobo and Kelleher in Cork University Hospital Ireland undertook a retrospective study of 3155 children aged 1–15 years comparing both formulas to identify which one best approximates weight in Irish children presenting to the ED. They conclude that the LO is a safe and more accurate age based estimation over a large age range. Maybe it’s time to review our practice but do read this paper and weigh up your own thoughts, no pun intended!

Not all suffering is pain
Pain is the commonest reason patients attend the ED. Our sometimes lack of appreciation and subsequent under-treatment of pain is often a source of distress and dissatisfaction which can result in uncharacteristic behaviour. However not all suffering is pain and we may find ourselves wanting when the cause of distress is emotional rather than physical. This issue features a prospective cohort study by Body and colleagues in Oxford which sought to describe the burden of suffering in the ED. Of the 125 patients included in the study many reported emotional distress particularly anxiety as well as physical symptoms. Indeed only 37 patients reported that pain was causing their suffering. It should not come as any surprise that being seen, information, reassurance, explanation, care by friendly staff and closure were the key themes reported as relieving suffering. This approach just represents best practice but in the mounting pressures of ED’s worldwide it is all too easy to lose sight of the person and their need for compassion and understanding. Dismissing emotional suffering as perhaps someone else’s problem is detrimental to our patients and ultimately ourselves. Do read this paper; it is a timely and salutary reminder of what we should be about, why we do the job we do and what patients expect of us. There is also a podcast with the Editor in Chief and the author. Find this online alongside this issue.

Best evidence or clinical acumen (Readers’choice)
As demands for emergency care and acuity of patients presenting continues to rise globally, ED clinicians are increasingly faced with making decisions to discharge patients from high acuity areas of the ED. Patient safety and well being should govern any decision to discharge a patient but many cases are complex and weigh heavily on clinicians making such decisions. Calder and colleagues in Canada conducted a real time survey of experienced ED physicians to determine how they perceive their discharge decisions and the impact on adverse events. The authors concluded that ED physicians in their study most often relied on clinical acumen rather than evidence based guidelines and that neither approach was associated with adverse events. They recommend further research which focuses on decision support solutions and feedback interventions.

The greater good
Pulmonary embolism (PE) is a leading cause of death in pregnancy and the post partum period and a devastating event for mother and baby. When accurately diagnosed and treated the risk of an adverse outcome is low. In this paper Goodacre and colleagues explore the options for imaging and discuss the evidence for using clinical features and biomarkers for the selection of women for imaging. Their review of the literature suggests that the harm of investigation with diagnostic imaging may outweigh the benefits but that clinical predictors could be used to identify women at higher risk who could be appropriate for imaging. They also state the need for further research around clinical predictors and particularly the use of D-dimer at a pregnancy—specific threshold.

Pearls of wisdom
There is little doubt that the emergency department is a quite unique environment that offers abundant opportunities for learning. Seizing and exploiting these opportunities is not always as straightforward as we would like it to be. The constant pressure to manage multiple patients and make decisions to refer, admit or discharge against the backdrop of a ticking clock often mitigates against the teachable moment however genuine our desire or commitment to teaching is. It’s easy to feel impatient and exasperated by the seemingly slow pace of some learners when you are trying to maintain safety in a crowded department. On the plus side, however, learning in such an environment can instill a sense of urgency, something that cannot be learnt from a textbook. Nonetheless teaching and learning is integral to all our roles and so it was refreshing to read in this issue “Top 10 ideas to improve bedside teaching in a busy emergency department” by Green & Chen from California. We have probably all used some or all of these methods to teach in different circumstances but the authors imaginative use of a framework, of ‘mnemonics’ and easy to remember names such as “Aunt Minnie” and “Snapps” is amusing and lighthearted. In reading this paper, you may just find that pearl of wisdom for the next teachable moment.

 

Mary Dawood

Gallows humour at the hanging committee

24 May, 14 | by scarley

Have you ever submitted to the EMJ or to any other journal for that matter? If so then you will know the fear and trepidation that results as you wait for the answer from the editor. Will your paper be accepted (hurrah) or rejected (boo). I’ve experienced much pain at the hands of editors and reviewers over the years and I’m doing my best not to give any pain back, but to be honest being part of an editorial team is not a popularity contest. A key part of our role is to decide what’s in and what’s out, and it will ever be thus.

The editorial decision process will vary from journal to journal but here at the EMJ all papers initially go to the editor in chief, and then are disseminated to handling editors who recruit and then manage the peer review process. Once complete the handling editors advise the editor in chief on their decisions and opinions. Ultimately the buck stops with the boss, but the handling editors clearly play a key role. That’s my position in this organisation and in the most part the acceptance/rejection decision is fairly straightforward after careful reading of the manuscript in conjunction with the reviewer comments.

However, it’s not always straightforward. There are many circumstances where it’s just really difficult to make a decision on whether to recommend publication. Here are some examples.

  • A survey paper tackles a highly controversial and politically charged subject but has a less than perfect response rate. The information will be popular, interesting and controversial. This paper will be widely read by your subscribers, may attract media interest and (hopefully) some social media activity, but it’s not great science. Would you publish it?
  • A randomised controlled trial of a new drug fabulon is submitted. It is highly effective in treating madeupitis disease in South East Somewhere. It’s a great trial, but as far as you are aware this disease would rarely be encountered by your readership. Great science, but poor applicability. Would you publish?
  • An observational study of sedation in the ED is submitted and 4 reviews are returned. 2 reviewers recommend acceptance without correction, the other 2 recommend instant rejection. Both recognise flaws but the reviewer judgements are so distant that you wonder if they read the same paper. Would you publish?

So what next? As an author you may experience a pause in proceedings. It’s quite likely that the editorial team have referred you to a special place. It’s not somewhere where we flip coins to decide who gets in, nor do we throw darts at manuscripts on the wall, nor throw papers down the stairs and publish the ones on the top steps (honestly all of these accusations have been made by the disgruntled). No. Flipping coins or other arbitary methods of choice are considered very bad practice in the editorial world. It would be highly unfair to the authors so there must be another way and it’s entirely possible that you may have experienced a referral to THE HANGING COMMITTEE!!!

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When I was first referred to a hanging committee I was rather shocked as I imagined my work and toil being led to the gallows. Should it pass the committee it might receive a pardon and be passed on to production for publication. Should it be found wanting then it would be hanged there and then, despatched, killed and never seen again.

In truth my perception of the hanging committee was quite wrong, the origin of the term not being the gallows, but the rather more enticing, pleasant and appreciative world of art. I was surprised to learn that the hanging committee term originates from the art world where decisions are made on which paintings will be shown to the public. A judgement is made in committee on what to hang for public consumption and of course at this point it all makes sense. In publishing as in art there are judgements to be made on what to present and how it should be presented. The analogy fits and so the EMJ team meets to hang papers on a regular basis. The hanging committee sits not to sentence and murder, but to view, read, appreciate and try to select the best for the hard pressed pages of the journal.

So, if you get a referral to the hanging committee it’s not a death sentence and there may well be a reprieve. Hold tight and wait to see what the decision is, you might just catch the eye of the committee and find yourself hung rather than hanged.

Hanging Committee, Royal Academy, 1892 by Reginald Cleaver Wikimedia

Hanging Committee, Royal Academy, 1892 by Reginald Cleaver
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S

@EMManchester

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