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Primary Survey April 2017.

18 Apr, 17 | by scarley

This month’s primary Survey is written by Mary Dawood. Don’t forget to visit the journal site to see more and keep in touch with us on Social Media.

Also, don’t forget to listen and subscribe to our podcast to keep you up to date on the journal and topics in emergency medicine.

Organ Donation in the ED

Possibly one of the most sensitive and daunting conversations that takes place in the ED is about organ donation. By virtue of circumstances this conversation usually occurs subsequent to breaking news of death or imminent death. Broaching the subject of organ donation can seem ill timed, insensitive and is difficult for even the most skilled clinicians. Even so, organ donation is a core competency in emergency medicine as is the management of patients in the final stages of life, furthermore we have a duty as healthcare professionals to explore this potential at the end of life. In the UK in 2015–16 a record number of organs were donated and transplanted but the consent rate is still one of the lowest in Europe. At the end of 2015 there were nearly 7000 people waiting for a transplant, 429 died while waiting and a further 807 were removed from the list most likely due to deteriorating health. Despite ongoing teaching of emergency staff and expert support from specialist nurses, opportunities for organ donation can still be lost in the urgency and fast pace of the ED as well as the perceived difficulties of managing the logistics of donation before death (DBD) or donation after circulatory death (DCD). Outcomes from DBD are better but an ongoing shortage of organs is seeing the reintroduction of a long abandoned practice of (DCD). This month’s issue includes a very informative paper by Gardiner and colleagues along with a commentary by Bernard Foex about organ donation. Gardiners paper describes current transplantation practice in the UK, associated ethical and legal issues, the classification of deceased donors and future developments promising greater numbers of organs. Foex’s commentary discusses withdrawal of life sustaining therapy and the case for delay.

Both these papers are a ‘must read’ for ED clinicians everywhere to remind us that the potential to change lives for better is enormous and the urgency for organ donation is greater than ever as we live longer.

Saving money

Containing the ever increasing costs of healthcare is both a challenge and a necessity in all health economies. We are constantly entreated by our ‘money masters’ to find not only more cost effective ways of delivering care but cheaper consumables. In the minds of many clinicians cheaper consumables often equate to poorer quality so it was very interesting to read of a study by Riguzzi et al from San Francisco comparing cost of commercially produced ultrasound gel which is relatively expensive with an alternative corn-starched based gel. They found that the corn starched gel which cost <10 cents per bottle produced images of similar quality to those using commercial gel which costs about $5 dollars. Given that point of care ultrasound is increasingly used in low resource settings, over time, this may represent a tidy sum that could be used elsewhere. Think about this the next time you liberally squirt expensive ultrasound gel!.

Sepsis again

Lifesaving treatment for sepsis is relatively straightforward–so many more lives should be saved every year if treatment is started in a timely way. It is therefore an ongoing concern that so many people still die from sepsis every year. The difficulty is spotting this complex condition as soon as a patient presents so we need to ask whether our triage systems are sufficiently sophisticated to support early recognition. Graff and colleagues in Germany undertook an evaluation of the Manchester triage system (MTS) to assess its effectiveness in identifying septic patients. They found the MTS to have some weakness with respect to priority in patients with sepsis and that discriminators for identifying systemic infection are insufficiently considered. In view of the fact that MTS and similar versions are so widely used it is well worth reading this paper to revisit our triage systems and how we can improve detection of sepsis at triage.

Weighing patients: a guestimate?

Some EDs are fortunate to have high specification trolleys that have built in scales for weighing patients. Most of us probably don’t work with such sophisticated facilities so we resort to roughly estimating a patient’s weight in emergency situations. This is a concern when using time critical drugs that require precise dosing according to weight. I was curious then to read of a study in this issue by Cattermole and colleagues in the UK that aimed to develop and validate an accurate method for estimating weight in all age groups using mid arm circumference.(MAC) They derived a simplified method of MAC based weight estimation from a linear regression equation: weight in kg=4xMAC (in cm)−50. They found that this formula is at least as precise in adults and adolescents as commonly used paediatric weight estimation tools are in children. The authors advise that a gender specific model would improve precision but this would require a tape or smartphone. This study is well worth a read as a more accurate way of estimating weight is to be welcomed especially as rising obesity levels will call for more consistent documentation of weight and precise dosing.

Adaptive design clinical trials in the ED?

Conducting and sustaining clinical trials in emergency settings can be difficult for a variety of reasons. One reason may relate to the fixed nature of the designs that are traditionally used in ED trials, where conduct and analysis are outlined at the outset and are not examined until the trial is finished. This fixed design may in many instances take too long and be costly both to patients and staff. It may be time to consider alternative way of conducting clinical trials in the ED that may be more effective and conducive to the ED setting. In this issue, Flight et al hypothetised that the majority of published emergency medicine trials have the potential to use a simple adaptive trial design where planned interim analysis is factored in to determine whether studies should be stopped or modified before recruitment is complete. Their study reviewed clinical trials published in three emergency medicine journals between January 2003 and December 2013. They found that out of 188 trials, only 19 were considered to have used an adaptive trial design. A total of 154/165 trials that were fixed in design had the potential to use an adaptive design. For those of us grappling with the challenges of clinical trials in the ED, this approach is worthy of consideration.

View Abstract

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Mary Dawood

  1. Emergency Department, Imperial College NHS Trust, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Mary Dawood; Mary.dawood@imperial.nhs.uk

The weekend effect. Part 1.

28 Oct, 16 | by scarley

the-weekend-effect

Chris Moulton VP of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine and Ellen Weber discuss the weekend effect. This is well worth a listen to get behind the headlines and politics of a controversial meme in healthcare.

What is it? Is there an effect and what can we do about it?

Click on this link to read more about the paper on Chris Gray’s blog.

 

vb

S

 

Primary Survey: November 2016.

22 Oct, 16 | by scarley

primary

Richard Body, Associate Editor

The Manchester derby for paediatric early warning scores

There is clearly a need for a validated physiological early warning score for specific use in the paediatric emergency department (PED). In this issue, Cotterill et al compare two paediatric early warning scores developed in Manchester: the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital Early Warning System (ManCHEWS) and a modified version, the Pennine Acute Trust Paediatric Observation Priority Score (PAT-POPS). The modified score incorporates the original physiological scoring system but also takes account of the nurse’s judgement and specific elements of a patient’s background. This Manchester derby was a close call: but will the marginally superior accuracy of PAT-POPS for predicting hospital admission ultimately win over the simplicity of ManCHEWS?

Future emergency care: the (citizen’s) jury has spoken

In Queensland, Australia, Scuffham et al took an extremely interesting approach to patient and public involvement. They convened a citizen’s jury to deliberate on matters relating to the delivery of emergency care. The jury’s verdict is intriguing and highly relevant to the future of Emergency Medicine. The participants were clearly amenable to alternative models of emergency healthcare delivery including care provided by allied health professionals and decisions not to transport patients to hospital from the pre-hospital environment.

What is ‘productivity’?

If you sometimes feel that measuring productivity in the Emergency Department has the potential to create a dehumanized production line (and even if you don’t), this month’s paper by Moffatt et al is a ‘must read’. In a series of semi-structured interviews with healthcare practitioners working in an Emergency Department, this team explores their feelings about the notion of ‘productivity’. The findings are heartening and are sure to kindle a warm feeling in the heart of any emergency physician. Hopefully this important work will lead to greater recognition of the need to retain compassion in our practice, promote an appropriate balance between ‘care’ and ‘efficiency’ and avoid the “sausage factory” mentality, to quote one of the participants.

A SuPAR new biomarker of serious illness?

In Emergency Medicine we are becoming accustomed to the use of biomarkers that may lack specificity for any one particular condition, but that provide important prognostic information. Lactate could be considered one such biomarker, and its interpretation has become an important skill for emergency physicians. This may suggest that we are at the dawn of a new era for biomarkers. Our traditional ‘binary thinking’ about diagnostics, whereby tests can simply tell us whether a patient does or does not have a particular disease, is beginning to seem crude and outdated. In this issue, Rasmussen et al measured SuPAR at the time of admission to an Acute Medical Unit in a cohort of over 4,000 patients. SuPAR was shown to predict mortality and the need for hospital re-admission even after adjustment for confounders. The findings are impressive, and this work must lead on to further research to identify how this interesting non-specific biomarker can be used to guide real life healthcare decisions.

Health inequality and the global importance of emergency care

We know surprisingly little about the relationship between emergency care provision and the impact of emergent conditions on health, internationally. Of course, emergency physicians might expect that failure to provide adequate emergency care would lead to greater mortality and morbidity from such conditions. In this issue, Chang et al quantify this problem. In an analysis from 40 countries, they found that all fifteen of the major global causes of mortality and morbidity can present emergently, and identified that insufficient access to emergency care is clearly associated with higher mortality and morbidity. This makes sobering reading as a demonstration of global health inequality, and highlights the pressing need to develop Emergency Medicine internationally.

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Rick Body

@richardbody

What’s the point of a log roll? EMJ

26 Aug, 16 | by scarley

Screenshot 2016-08-22 08.27.02

A very interesting paper in this month’s EMJ on the utility of log rolling trauma patients. Why interesting? Well, because I think the evidence for the lack of utility in log rolling has been around for some time and yet it persists in practice.

It’s unclear why, perhaps it’s the big scary guidelines that still suggest that we need to take our unstable trauma patients with potential spinal injuries and then flip them on their side to try and shake off some clot and jiggle the broken bones around a bit. Harsh? Perhaps, but I think all trauma clinicians wil have seen physiological deterioration with poor patient handling.

This paper further provides evidence for safe handling and we should all read and carefully consider our response to the question ‘has the patient been rolled’.

In my practice if I really need to have a look at the back then I’ll raise the patient very carefully by 20 degrees, just enough to put a scoop stretcher in, or to feel for foreign matter or obvious injury. If they are going for CT then nothing else is needed.

Whilst we are at it, let’s challenge the mandatory rectal in trauma. It has a poor sensitivity and specificity and let’s face it. The patient is already having a bad day without you putting a finger in their anus.

Screenshot 2016-08-22 08.22.35

With such poor sensitivity it’s not going to stop you from doing further investigations and even if positive you’re still going to do further investigations. I think it’s difficult to justify during the primary survey. For patients undergoing CT then these clinical tests can wait.

Let’s leave the log rolling to these experts.

vb

S

@EMManchester

 

What is the purpose of log roll examination in the unconscious adult trauma patient during trauma reception? http://emj.bmj.com/content/33/9/632.short?rss=1

SCANCrit on log rolls and rectals. http://www.scancrit.com/2014/04/10/log-roll-finger-bum/

Log-rolling a blunt major trauma patient is inappropriate in the primary survey. http://emj.bmj.com/content/early/2013/10/17/emermed-2013-203283.full.pdf

Reasons to omit digital rectal exam in trauma patients: no fingers, no rectum, no useful additional information. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16394903

Poor test characteristics for the digital rectal examination in trauma patients. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17391807

Primary Survey September 2016: EMJ

24 Aug, 16 | by scarley

This month’s primary survey from the EMJ.

Emergency Triage and Treatment Course in primary care health centres in Guatamala

Emergency triage Assessment and treatment (ETAT) course was developed by WHO in 1999 as part of its Integrated Management of Childhood Illnesses program for improving outcomes for children. It has been devised as a hospital based system for health services of limited resource settings.

This study took ETAT and introduced into the primary care setting, making it a self-sustaining locally led course in a district within Guatamala. The course comprised 5 modules that cover Triage, Airway/breathing, Circulation, Coma/convulsions and Dehydration which took 16 hours in total. Two courses were delivered in October 2012, and subsequently candidates were asked to undergo a written test and a survey about their confidence prior to the course and immediately thereafter, and then again at 3 months, 6 months and 12 months after the course. They were asked to take part also in a clinical skills assessment. During this time, a quality improvement program was established to identify and remedy problems that were found to be significant for candidate performance and learning.

There was an improvement in knowledge, from the pre-course to post course tests that was sustained in all subsequent tests. The clinical skills retention, assessed at 3, 6 and 12 months, all scored highly.

There was a boost in confidence before and after the course although this did start to reduce over time (but not to statistically significant standards). The level of confidence remained than that determine in the pre-course assessment.

This paper highlights that ETAT which has been shown to improve care for children in the resource limited care setting and shows that with planning and the use of QI programs, clinical skills knowledge and even confidence in a range of health care practitioners can be enhanced.

Point of care lung ultrasound in young children

This study had a ‘novice’ ultrasound operator look at the lungs of children triaged as having a respiratory problem such as wheeze or respiratory tract infection. The images were captured before any treatment was given to the children; these images were evaluated by an expert in ultrasound to determine if there were any of the following:

  • 3 or more B lines per intercostal space, consolidation+/− pleural abnormalities

  • Any of these features being present counted as a positive ultrasound.

None of the children with asthma had a positive ultrasound, whereas in pneumonia, all were positive. In children with asthma and pneumonia about half of he cases were positive as was the case in children with bronchiolitis. However, caution must be applied about just using ultrasound as the numbers in the study are small and more validation studies are required.

On a roll!

Why do log rolls in the unconscious adult patient? This retrospective study over 2 years looking at GSC 9 or less +/− intubated patients from the Alfred Trauma registry with major trauma (ISS >12) and compared the log roll findings with the CT/MRI reports on the presence or absence of thoracolumbar injury. Out of the 403 patients, about 85% did not have any abnormal findings on log roll. Out of the patients who had a thoracolumbar fracture(s), 72.5% had a normal log roll. Lesions seen included abrasions, bruising, haematoma, open wounds, foreign bodies and burns which were important in some instances for acute patient management. Using palpation in this group of patients to find any abnormalities is questionable. For determining thoracolumbar fractures, palpation has a specificity of 98.8% but a sensitivity of 8.5%. The authors therefore recommend that visual inspection is important but that palpation may not be as helpful, especially when patients may go onto have CT/MRI imaging to rule in or out thoracolumbar fractures. It should be noted that this idea needs further prospective studies to confirm or repute the proposal!

Sawbones? A potential life-saving intervention

Fortunately pre-hospital limb amputation is not common but when needed, it can be life-saving. The study used cadaver limbs, donated for medical research purposes, to see which was the most effective tool/technique to perform an amputation. Four devices were examined for the time from knife to full amputation, the number of attempts required, and perceived risk to the rescuer or “patient” during the procedure.

After the procedure, an assessment was made of the damage to the soft tissue, skin and bone, by 6 independent clinical rates according to a 5 point scale, with 5 being the most favourable result.

Ninety one seconds was the longest time taken to effect amputation, and all 4 techniques/tools had their advantages and disadvantages—a really important topic to improve patient care in difficult situations, showing practical aspects about a life-saving procedure.

Good communication makes for less ‘traumatised’ patients

Good interpersonal skill can reduce patient worry as seen in this study of acute coronary syndrome patients. The incidence of subsequent posttraumatic stress reactions decreases according to patient perception of communication with their clinician. It is important to think about how we conduct ourselves as this impacts greatly on how much better our patients can become!

“Delayed discharges and boarders”….

An ebb and flow of patients would be ideal, but as this paper shows that delay in the discharge of patients backs up patients in ED. The authors show this in their setting, in a busy hospital in Dublin and, in the discussion, show that this is a commonplace problem in many different countries throughout the world. How social and community care can improve their ‘joined-upness’ with hospital based care is essential for delivering optimum patient care.

Ian K Maconochie

Click here to go to the journal site.

What’s the future of medical journals?

10 Jul, 16 | by scarley

The future of medical publishing

I had the pleasure of joining a panel discussion at the recent SMACC conference on the future of medical journals. I was delighted to share the stage with some real big hitters such as Richard Smith (ex editor of the BMJ) and Jeff Drazen (current editor in chief of the NEJM), together with some amazing researchers such as Sara Bassin Flavia Machado, Kathy Rowan, John Myburgh, Simon Finfer and Kath Maitland.

As with all panel discussions there was a degree of entertainment generated by our host Simon Finfer, but this is a significant matter. Journals and the publishing process have a huge role and influence on the conduct, funding and dissemination of science. The panel was assembled with deliberately discordant views to challenge the status quo and to look to what may be a fabulous, or perhaps a more dystopian future.

Richard Smith is a vociferous proponent of a post journal world and you can read his thoughts here. It’s really worth a read as a challenge to how we deliver knowledge from primary research out to those that actually need it and then out to practice, and more importantly to those that will benefit from it i.e. our patients.

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I found myself at one end of the on stage sofas with Rob MacSweeney who many of you will know from the Critical Care Reviews website, and with whom I share many views. I think we played our role as challengers to the status quo pretty well. Rob in particular is a fantastic exponent of getting research to the bedside in an ethical and fair way. If you’re not following his blog, and getting his newsletter at critical care reviews then follow the link and think about joining in.

There was too much on the day to summarise here, but I’d ask you to have a think about some of the ideas raised on the day. Right or wrong the panel were challenged on the following.

  1. Publishing in high impact journals is a key to academic promotion. Should it be?
  2. Universities are using a proxy measure (impact factors) to determine promotions. That’s outsourcing a really important measure to a system that has huge flaws.
  3. Similarly, funding organisations measure success in terms of publications in high impact journals. Journals thus have a huge influence on research funding priorities and success. Is this right?
  4. Peer review has been repeatedly shown to have huge flaws, fails to detect fraud, fails to detect poor quality and is prone to interpersonal bias and politics. Can we find a better way?
  5. Social media has the potential to produce post publication review, but is it any good, and can we collate it?
  6. Should we have open publishing, followed by widespread open peer review and then publication, and would this be better at detecting fraud, bias and error?
  7. Some journals make their papers open access after a period of time (e.g NEJM) and this is a good thing, but it would be better if it was sooner. Should all funding agencies demand open access (as many now do)?
  8. The relationship between researchers seeking publication, impact factors, promotion and future funding is complex and arguably at risk of a ‘mutualism’ relationship that does not directly benefit patients. How do we break that relationship (and do we need to)?
  9. Many journals believe that they are providing a service by filtering the poor quality out and only presenting research that is worthy of attention. The question was raised as to whether we need ‘other people’ to do this for us. Do we really need journal editors to be our filters and guides or can we do it for ourselves?
  10. Patients enter trials on the understanding that they will benefit healthcare in the future. Is it therefore unethical that that information is behind a paywall and not widely distributed?

We covered many more topics and I’d recommend a listen when it is eventually released from the SMACC website. For me, straddling the traditional world of journals as an EMJ editor, and also as proponent the new world of #FOAMed it was fascinating. I think it’s increasingly difficult to see how journals can survive in their current format with the rise of easy e-publishing and the ability to engage with a much broader audience across the internet. However, thinking that journals will remain as they are and not adapt to a changing world would be similarly naive. Journals will have to adapt and change and I’m sure they will.

My thoughts are that the role of journals as sole publishers of original research will diminsh, taken over by an open publication, hive-mind reviewed, open multi peer review process (I can dream). This will not mean that journals will die. Arguably there will be an increasing need for the  collation and interpretation of science, and arguably this will be a more effective and useful service for readers. The signs of such a change are already here. For example the BMJ has changed format over the years and now serves original research in a more summary style within the paper version. The detail is available, but not in the paper copy. It seems that accessibility, engagement and interpretation are increasingly valued, and that’s no bad thing. Here at the EMJ the primary survey and the podcasts serve a similar purpose and they are popular.

What then is the future of medical publishing? I’m not sure but I’m fairly confident that the status quo will not continue. What do you think?

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S

EMJ Editor and Editor at St.Emlyn’s virtual hospital, blog and podcast.

PS. The debate was fuelled by some rather fabulous on stage drinks. The 25 year old Bushmills as recommended by Rob was truly stunning.

Why do Emergency Medicine?

21 Dec, 15 | by scarley

Great work from colleagues in Edinburgh.

Why would you do EM? Learn more by visiting their website at http://www.edinburghemergencymedicine.com/ and join the #EDvolution.

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S

The Alteplase Controversy Goes Prime Time

19 Sep, 15 | by rradecki

Alteplase & Stroke

Just a few months ago, alteplase for acute ischemic stroke was assaulted in the pages of the BMJ. Academic debate on this subject is hardly novel, as the controversy within the ivory tower has dragged on almost since thrombolytics for stroke received therapeutic approval.

However, as the use of alteplase grows, the number of patients harmed by its use has correspondingly increased. Regardless of the perceived benefits of the treatment, the resulting harms have accumulated into a full public outcry, with family members of those harmed petitioning the government for increased oversight. There are now two ongoing reviews in the United Kingdom – the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency review has been joined by the Academy of Medical Sciences. A full 38 minute segment on BBC Radio 4 details several personal stories, and contains snippets of interviews with the renowned David Newman, among others.

In the same vein, the American College of Emergency Physicians has finally released their revision to the highly-conflicted 2012 policy statement regarding treatment of acute ischemic stroke. Substantially altered from the 2012 version, ACEP has dramatically weakened the prior recommendations to reflect the paucity of randomized trial evidence. While two pivotal trials demonstrated significant absolute benefit, such trials enroll simply a few hundred patients in the setting of vastly heterogenous presentations and prognoses for acute stroke.

The new policy statement issues two recommendations for offering alteplase to qualifying patients, both under the “Level B” classification – representing “recommendations” for patient care subject to “moderate clinical certainty”. This is a change from the previous guideline, which provided concise recommendations favoring treatment within three hours as Class A. The new recommendations:

      With a goal to improve functional outcomes, IV tPA should be offered and may be given to selected patients with acute ischemic stroke within 3 hours after symptom onset at institutions where systems are in place to safely administer the medication. The increased risk of sICH should be considered when deciding whether to administer IV tPA to patients with acute ischemic stroke.

Despite the known risk of sICH and the variability in the degree of benefit functional outcomes, IV tPA may be offered and may be given to carefully selected patients with acute ischemic stroke within 3 to 4.5 hours after symptom onset at institutions where systems are in place to safely administer the medication.

It remains to be seen whether these recommendations substantially alter clinical practice or encourage additional investigation. Beyond 3 hours – the timeframe most critiqued by Alpers et al – alteplase remains unapproved for use by the FDA, and by these guidelines need not be offered to patients.

As always, the hope is these developments will spur further, prospective, independent evaluation. We need thousands, not hundreds, of patients in well-designed trials devoid of conflict-of-interest. Otherwise, we continue to place patients at risk, both from the harms of alteplase or the harms of potentially not receiving a truly beneficial therapy.

 

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Ryan

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

16 Jan, 15 | by scarley

EMJ_100x100

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

The view from the F2…..

14 Jan, 15 | by scarley

The view from the F2

As an aspiring emergency physician I have been keeping a close eye on the latest media frenzy regarding the NHS crisis. My own feeling is that from working in the NHS over the Christmas and New Year period is that the hospitals are considerably busier than this time last year.

Headlines such as ”hospital declares ‘major incident’ in NHS A&E crisis”1 have become common place and mutterings from GPs, consultants and juniors alike are saying the NHS is at breaking point.

Is it clear that the A&E departments across the country are facing an unprecedented number of admissions than ever. It is worrying that the strains demonstrated by hospitals declaring themselves as ‘major incidents’ could indicate the demise of the NHS , unable to cope with the extra demand.

Why is this? I wish to explore this topic and discuss some of what I believe to be the most crucial contributing factors to this NHS crisis.

I have asked myself, my colleagues and scoured the reports on this ‘ NHS crisis’. Why has there been such a high demand on the NHS this winter? What can I or my colleagues do to alleviate this?

The following are some of contributing factors which I believe have placed the NHS under more strain than ever. I have also discussed action plans that we as physicians could implement to try to alleviate some of these pressures.

 

  1. Ageing population: Medical advances have allowed an extended life expectancy for our population. 30 years ago a myocardial infarction carried a mortality rate of over 40%, now with advances such as PCI, time limits of 60mins from onset of chest pain to catheter table , cardiac rehabilitation & medications the mortality rates have significantly improved. This has consequences for the health service in other ways – people are living longer in the community with now more chronic illness. Our population is also living for longer , there are over ten million adults aged over 65 years living in the UK currently and this is projected to increase by an additional 5.5 million in twenty years time.2 We are now experiencing the conse of this situation with more patients with chronic illnesses unable to cope in the community and requiring hospital admission.
  2. Four hour target in the A&E department – The government and media have publicised the 4 hour target in the Emergency department. This is a potentially lucrative enticement to a patient who cannot get an immediate appointment from their GP in that they can be seen / investigate / treated / admitted or discharged within 4 hours from the emergency department. Should this target be abolished? – there does not appear to be much evidence that it improves healthcare and it seems that it in fact has created additional waiting / clinical assessment unit type wards in the hospital. If the targets were dropped and patients were seen purely on clinical need, perhaps not so urgent / acutely unwell patients would attend and instead try and attend their GP.
  3. GP out of hour’s service access – Since the GP contract changed in 2004, it has placed an extra strain on access of healthcare ‘out of hours’. Patients often think that after 6pm there are no GP services available and therefore present directly to the emergency department as they know its open 24/7. Some patients are unaware that a GP out of hour’s services exist. Is there an opportunity to educate patients in the community about accessing healthcare out-of-hours?
  4. NHS budget – in the financial climate, austere measures have been placed upon all public services. The NHS has also been affected by this. The NHS budget has been frozen for around 5 years, more productivity has been demanded from it and as the population has risen demand upon it has increased. The NHS is paid for by the taxpayer, and it is difficult to ask more from the taxpayer to contribute to the NHS. This calls into question privatisation of the NHS (I do apologise if this word causes offence to anyone reading). Should some fees be introduced to the NHS? e.g. fines for those who continually fail to attend appointments , recurrent drunks in the ED , a small fee for calling upon ambulance services and attending the ED?? Imposing fees could have major consequences. It is known that those who are in the lowest socio economic state have the poorest health. If fees were placed would we be neglecting those who could not afford a small payment towards their health? What do we do if patients refuse to pay? Do we set litigation against them? Would fee for service environment result in a more litigious society?
  5. Societal attitudes to illness and health – With the advent of social media , constant and instant information is available from Twitter , Facebook and Google. Society has become more risk averse. People are generally unwilling to accept any health risks (and why should they accept risk?). Therefore attending the hospital /emergency department whereby health can be assessed quickly with bloods & imaging and quick decisions can be made is now an expectation. It is not uncommon to hear colleagues complain that more patients are attending the emergency department for non emergency ailments such as simple coughs and sore throats. I don’t think there is any solution to this rather than acceptance of society’s shift in their health beliefs and health seeking behaviours. Perhaps its time we roll with this change and consider making healthcare more accessible to people’s lifestyles e.g. running more evening clinics in general practice when people can attend after work.

 

Rant over, I feel like a weight has been lifted off me however the gravidity of this situation is bearing down on the NHS and it appears to be unravelling before our eyes (maybe I am being a tad dramatic here but it is a pressing issue all the same).

I realise that this is a complex issue that will require time, money and patient education. What can we do as physicians? What can I do as a budding emergency medicine doctor? I suppose for now its patient education. Information empowers our patients and perhaps the next time we encounter a patient in the emergency room who you felt may have benefited from a visit to their general practitioner rather than the emergency room, inform them of this. There is no need to chastise patients but pointing out the resources available such as walk-in centres and out of hours GP services towards the end of the consultation may be worthwhile.

So from a foundation doctors perspective the above factor are what I belief are contributing to the current crisis however , what do you think? Are there other factors I have not considered? Does anyone have any remedies for this NHS ailment?

Yours comments and opinions are greatly appreciated.

Thanks for reading.

Aine Keating

 

References:

  1. BBC news article Nick Triggle (06/01/2015). A&E waiting is worst for a decade. UK
  2. Government document. (2007). Ageing population. Available: http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons/lib/research/key_issues/Key-Issues-The-ageing-population2007.pdf. Last accessed 06/01/15.

 

 

 

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