UMEM Educational Pearls - By Brent King

Category: Quality Assurance/Quality Improvement

Title: A Classic Article on Prevention of Diagnostic Error

Keywords: Metacognition, Diagnostic Error (PubMed Search)

Posted: 3/2/2024 by Brent King, MD (Updated: 7/14/2024)
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This classic article should be on everyone’s reading list.

The Bottom Line: Clinicians engaging in metacognition, that is thinking about our reasoning process, can avoid making some critical errors and falling victim to cognitive biases. 

Diagnostic errors are common in clinical medicine and particularly common in situations in which the clinician is faced with a novel circumstance and cannot, therefore easily apply heuristics or rules. There are also certain classic situations in which cognitive errors often occur (e.g., mistaking intracranial injury for intoxication). Through a process of active consideration of one’s diagnostic approach, many errors and cognitive biases (particularly availability bias and anchoring bias) can be avoided.

Take-home message: This article is worth reading in its entirety. Applying these principles can protect both patients and clinicians from the consequences of diagnostic errors.

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Category: Quality Assurance/Quality Improvement

Title: What Happens When Your Local ED Closes?

Keywords: Patient Mortality, Emergency Department Closure (PubMed Search)

Posted: 2/2/2024 by Brent King, MD (Emailed: 2/3/2024) (Updated: 2/3/2024)
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Takeaway Message: In this study from England, the closure or downgrading of selected emergency departments had no observable impact on patient mortality.

Due to staffing shortages in the UK, the NHS has closed or reduced the capacity of some emergency departments thus strategically concentrating emergency services. The authors of this observational study sought to determine the impact on patient mortality from the closure of five emergency departments between 2007 and 2014. While transport time to an emergency department did increase by up to 25 minutes (median change - 9 minutes, range 0-25 minutes), no change in mortality was identified in the population studied.

The Bottom Line: Closure of selected emergency departments had no impact on population mortality in this UK study but the affected patients had other EDs in relatively close proximity to the ones that had closed.

Comment: This article's findings contradict those of a previously posted Pearl which noted a decrease in mortality when newly opened EDs reduced the volume of existing EDs (Woodworth L. Swamped: Emergency department crowding and patient mortality. Journal of Health Economics, 2020; 70: 102279). The reasons for this discrepancy are unclear but may be due to differences in the healthcare systems of the US and UK.

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The Bottom Line: Investigators studying the use of a pre-intubation checklist versus "usual care" found no differences in important outcomes such as oxygen saturation and first pass success. However, the study was conducted as a part of a larger study, was unblinded, and not well controlled. 

The investigators who conducted the multicenter CHECK UP trial, a study of head up intubation in ICU patients, reviewed the care of 262 ICU patients who were intubated. Some intubation attempts were guided by a pre-intubation checklist and some were not. The authors found no difference between the groups in lowest SPO2, number of intubation attempts, etc. However, the study was unblinded and largely observational. In many cases, the elements of a checklist had been incorporated into routine practice. 

Take Home Point: While the authors found no differences in outcomes, this study does little to prove or disprove the value of pre-intubation checklists. Not only was the study essentially uncontrolled, the untoward events being studied are unusual in the hands of experienced clinicians.

Comment: Pre-procedural checklists make intuitive sense to me. They help us to avoid cultural drift. I am certainly not ready to abandon the use of a pre-intubation checklist based upon this study

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Category: Quality Assurance/Quality Improvement

Title: Pharmacists Make a Difference

Keywords: Medication Errors, Pharmacy (PubMed Search)

Posted: 11/4/2023 by Brent King, MD (Updated: 7/14/2024)
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Spanish investigators conducted a 6-month, prospective, observational study to determine the impact of emergency department pharmacists on medication errors. They specifically focused on so called "High Alert" medications and on errors that, if undetected prior to administration, were likely to have serious deleterious consequences.

Over the course of the study, the pharmacists reviewed the medication records and histories of nearly 3000 patients. The pharmacists intervened in the care of 557 patients. Errors were most often detected during the process of medication reconcilliation. Over half of the potential errors were considered "severe" and the majority of pharmacist interventions were deemed important to the patient's care. Many of the medication errors detected involved "High Alert" medications.

The Bottom Line: Pharmacists are integral members of a high-functioning emergency department team. Their specialized knowledge contributes to a safe and effective care environment.

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Category: Administration

Title: A Unique Look at the Impact of Boarding

Keywords: Boarding, Mortality, Crowding (PubMed Search)

Posted: 9/22/2023 by Brent King, MD (Emailed: 10/7/2023) (Updated: 2/3/2024)
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Takeaway Points - A 10 percent reduction in ED volume reduces an ED patient's chance of dying by 24% at 30 days and by 17% at six months

The author of this study conducted a unique natural experiment. They identified cases in which a new emergency department opened near one or more existing departments. Then, they confirmed that the opening of the new department was the only substantial change that occurred (e.g. the staff in the existing EDs were unchanged, the types of complaints were unchanged etc.). The author then determined the impact of the new ED on the existing ED's patient volume and compared death records from the existing EDs before and after the new ED opened.

Simply offloading 10 percent of patients from the existing ED to the new ED, significantly reduced the 30 day and six month risk of death for the existing ED's patients. 

The Bottom Line: Many studies have attempted to determine the impact of boarding and to tie boarding to morbitiy and mortality. This author's unique approach to the problem serves to reinforce the need for comprehensive solutions to the problem of patient boarding. Even a modest reduction in emergency department volume has a measureable impact on patient outcomes

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Category: Quality Assurance/Quality Improvement

Title: Do burned out physicians provide lower quality care?

Keywords: Physician Burnout, Quality of Care, Professionalism (PubMed Search)

Posted: 6/13/2023 by Brent King, MD (Emailed: 8/6/2023) (Updated: 6/19/2023)
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Takeaways: Physicians who have symptoms of burnout as measured by standard burnout scales are more likely to be involved in patient safety incidents, more likely to be cited for poor professionalism, and more likely to have lower patient satisfaction scores. They are also more likely to leave their jobs, experience career regret, and experience job dissatisfaction/ The risk of burnout is highest among emergency physicians and intensivists. 

In this systematic review and meta analysis, the authors reviewed 170 qualitative and quantitative studies including 239,246 physicans to determine the impact of physician burnout on a variety of issues including, quality of care delivered, perception of professionalism, patient satisfaction, and career engagement.

As compared to physicians who did not report symptoms of burnout, burned-out physicians were about four times more likely to be unhappy in their jobs and three times more likely to regret their career decision and to express an intention to leave their jobs.Physician burnout doubled the likelihood of involvement in a patient safety incident and made it three times more likely that the physician would be cited for unprofessional behavior. Burned out physicians were also three times more likely to have low patient satisfaction scores.

Burned-out physicians in their 20's and 30's were particularly at risk for involvement in patient safety incidents and burned-out trainees were more often cited for poor professionalism than older physicians, especially those in their 50's and beyond.

The bottom line: Physican burnout is a serious and growing problem. It has numerous potentially serious consequences for both physicians and patients. Physicians working in high-pressure specialties like emergency medicine and critical care have the highest risk for burnout. 

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Category: Quality Assurance/Quality Improvement

Title: Does Crowding Negatively Impact Low and Moderate Acuity Patients?

Keywords: Emergency Department Boarding, Emergency Department Crowding (PubMed Search)

Posted: 6/3/2023 by Brent King, MD
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The authors of this study retrospectively compared the 10-day mortality rates of patients who were triaged to levels 3-5 on the Scandinavian Rapid Emergency Triage and Treatment System (RETTS) during times of ED crowding (as measured by length of stay and percentage bed occupancy) with those who came to the ED at other times.


Patients were divided into four quartiles, corresponding with 2-hour length of stay blocks with quartile one having a length of stay of 2 or fewer hours and quartile four having a length of greater than 8 hours


Results: 705,076 patients were seen in one of two EDs from 2009 to 2016. The 10-day mortality rate was 0.09% (n = 623). The authors found an increased 10-day mortality for patients in quartile four as compared to those in quartile one “(adjusted odds ratio 5.86; 95% confidence interval [CI] 2.15 to 15.94)”  This was also true for times when the ED occupancy ratio was greater than one (more than one patient in the ED per available bed). “Adjusted odds ratios for ED occupancy ratio quartiles 2, 3, and 4 versus quartile 1 were 1.48 (95% CI 1.14 to 1.92), 1.63 (95% CI 1.24 to 2.14), and 1.53 (95% CI 1.15 to 2.03), respectively”


Older patients and those with co-morbidities were at greatest risk but lower-acuity patients in all age and morbidity classes had an increased risk of death within 10 days if they came to the ED when it was crowded.


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