UMEM Educational Pearls - EMS

Category: EMS

Title: There's a Doctor on Board! Physician Staffed EMS and Trauma Care in Japan

Keywords: EMS, trauma, emergency medical services, (PubMed Search)

Posted: 12/6/2023 by Ben Lawner, DO (Updated: 12/11/2023)
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EMS systems differ in staffing and composition. The Japanese model utilizes “doctor cars” which bring a physician and nurse to the scene of a critical patient encounter. Personnel on the “doctor cars” are able to perform advanced therapies such as REBOA, finger thoracostomy, and chest tube thoracostomy. As physician EMS fellowships continue to expand in the United States, it is helpful to examine the utility of physician response incorporated into prehospital emergency care. 


A nationwide retrospective cohort study including over 370,000 patients examined the impact of Japan “doctor cars” upon in hospital survival. Doctor cars responded to 2361 trauma patients, and traditional Ground Emergency Medical Services (GEMS) units cared for 46,783 trauma patients.  The study’s primary outcome was survival to discharge.  

The adjusted odds ratio for survival was significantly higher in the exposure group served by the doctor cars. The study suggests that there may be a role for augmenting ground EMS personnel in the response to critical injuries. Via logistic regression, the study controlled for multiple other variables such as age, sex, prehospital vital signs, out of hospital time, and injury severity score (ISS).  

  • At hospitals caring for >50 trauma patients per year, the impact of doctor cars upon in hospital survival was not statistically significant 
  • Not surprisingly, patients cared for by the doctor car team had a longer time to hospital arrival 
  • Adult patients with higher ISS scores had a significant improvement in survival  

This study is far from definitive but contributes to a growing body of literature addressing how EMS physicians integrate into prehospital systems.

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Category: EMS

Title: EMS and the management of pediatric agitation

Keywords: mental health, excited delirium, agitation, sedation, ketamine (PubMed Search)

Posted: 11/15/2023 by Jenny Guyther, MD (Updated: 12/11/2023)
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This is a retrospective review of pediatric patients with mental health presentations to EMS in Australia.  For children 12 or older, EMS has standing orders for midazolam for mild to moderate agitation and ketamine for severe agitation.  Patients younger than 12 require medical consultation prior to administration.
14% of pediatric EMS calls in this study were for mental health problems.  In 8% of the 7816 pediatric mental health EMS encounters, patients received either midazolam (about 75%) or ketamine (25% of cases). 11% of patients who received midazolam had an adverse event while 37% in the ketamine group had an adverse event.  Adverse events included airway obstruction requiring jaw thrust, OPA or NPA placement, BVM or desaturations requiring oxygen. No serious adverse events occurred in either group.
Police accompanied EMS in 82% of these cases.  Patients who received medication management were more likely to have autism spectrum disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, intellectual disability, psychiatric disorder or history of substance abuse.
Bottom line: Pediatric mental health is a significant global problem where further research is needed.

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Category: EMS

Title: EMS, Documentation, and Continuation of Care in Stroke Patients

Keywords: Stroke, EMS, medical record linkage, prehospital (PubMed Search)

Posted: 11/3/2023 by Ben Lawner, DO
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BACKGROUND: Prehospital (EMS) clinicians are positioned on the front lines of health care. With respect to stroke identification and treatment, early recognition is essential to positive outcomes. Considerable variability exists within EMS documentation. Despite considerable variability in documentation, the establishment and tracking of core stroke metrics serves as a benchmark to gauge performance and outline strategies for improvement. 

METHODS: Authors conducted a retrospective, observational analysis of EMS encounters (2018-2019) which ultimately received a diagnosis of an "acute cerebrovascular event." Hospital based diagnoses included: hemorrhagic stroke, ischemic stroke, or transient ischemic attack. The data set was comprised of a statewide EMS documentation and a state wide acute stroke registry. Authors examined compliance with six core performance metrics which included measurement of blood glucose, documentation of last known well time, and on-scene time < 15 mins for patients with suspected stroke. During the 18 month study, almost 6000 encounters met criteria for inclusion. 

RESULTS: EMS documentation remains a significant source of variability. EMS crews were largely compliant with blood glucose measurement. However, last known well time had the lowest (24%) documentation rate. Patients diagnosed with subarachnoid hemorrhage had the lowest rate of compliance with metrics. 

BOTTOM LINE: Accurate prehospital stroke diagnosis remains a challenge. Consistent data collection and benchmarking remains an important first step in the evaluation of performance. Higher NIHSS scores and ischemic strokes are linked to higher rates of metric compliance. 

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Category: EMS

Title: Which type of BVM provides appropriate tidal volumes in the back of an ambulance?

Keywords: BVM, tidal volume, TV, ALS, BLS (PubMed Search)

Posted: 10/18/2023 by Jenny Guyther, MD (Updated: 12/11/2023)
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The typical bag valve mask ventilator (BVM) for adults has a reservoir volume between 1500-2000 mL depending on the manufacturer while the volume is between 500-1000 mL for a pediatric BVM.  When trying to obtain the recommended tidal volume of 6-8 mL/kg (500-600 mL for the typical adult), one thought was that a pediatric BVM could be used with adult patients so as to avoid iatrogenic barotrauma.  This has been studied on manakins using an oral pharyngeal airway, supraglottic airway and endotracheal tubes (ETT) and has been successful.  This study attempted to obtain the same results in the back of a moving ambulance.  Paramedics and EMTs, squeezing pediatric and adult BVMs with one hand, bagged adult manakins in the back of a moving ambulance (without lights and sirens).  The average tidal volume was recorded using various types of airways (i-gel, King airway and ETT).

Volumes delivered with the pediatric BVM were significantly lower than the tidal volumes with adult BVMs across all airway types suggesting that in the moving ambulance, using pediatric BVMs on an adult patient would not be appropriate.

The I-Gel and King airway provided similar tidal volumes which were not statistically different than volume delivered through the ETT.

EMTs consistently delivered 50% less tidal volumes compared to paramedics. The authors suggested that perhaps the additional training and pathophysiology knowledge that paramedics have could also be important with a skill that is considered basic. 

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Category: EMS

Title: EMS Overdose Response: Better with Bupe ?

Keywords: Emergency medical services, harm reduction, buprenorphine, overdose (PubMed Search)

Posted: 10/5/2023 by Ben Lawner, DO
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Emergency Medical Services (EMS) systems, especially those within urban jurisdictions, struggle to effectively meet the needs of patients experiencing complications of substance use. The exceedingly high burden of disease, coupled with potentially life-threatening sequelae of substance use stresses EMS systems beyond capacity. The current paradigm of naloxone administration and subsequent refusal of care places patients at an increased risk of death and other complications such as aspiration. EMS agencies, in collaboration with area hospitals, public health experts, and addiction medicine specialists are devising novel mitigation strategies to reduce morbidity and mortality. “Leave behind” naloxone, peer outreach, and 911 diversion programs are part of a more over-arching strategy that links patients to longer term, definitive health care resources within the community. EMS-administered buprenorphine has emerged as a novel treatment modality for prehospital patients. This study examined outcomes of patients who were a) experiencing symptoms of opiate withdrawal and b) given buprenorphine by a credentialed EMS paramedic. Patients included in the buprenorphine cohort scored >5 on the clinical opiate withdrawal scale (COWS), regained “full decisional capacity” after being resuscitated from an overdose, and were > 18 years of age. The study excluded pregnant patients and those who took methadone within 48 hours prior to an EMS encounter. After consultation with an EMS physician, patients received 16 mg of sublingual buprenorphine. Paramedics could administer ondansetron and an additional 8 mg of buprenorphine for continued symptoms. Finally, the study cohort was matched to a similar group of patients who were treated by “non buprenorphine equipped” ambulance. Outcomes of interest included: rates of repeat overdose, likelihood of transport, and follow up with addiction medicine/substance use resources. The study was conducted in an urban EMS system with robust EMS physician oversight and advanced life support transport units.

Patients receiving buprenorphine did not experience a reduction in repeat overdose. However, they were less likely to be transported. The buprenorphine cohort, predictably, was much more likely to be enrolled in a substance use treatment program within 30 days of the initial encounter. Paramedics spent more time on scene with the buprenorphine cohort.  Though far from a conclusive study, the manuscript adds to a growing body of literature that attests to the feasibility of paramedic administered buprenorphine.

Though far from a conclusive study, buprenorphine administration by EMS paramedics is feasible. The increased linkage to care and decreased rates of transport will hopefully motivate EMS systems to consider novel strategies for harm reduction. The study authors opine that buprenorphine may “be a promising…link to long term recovery.”

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Category: EMS

Title: What are the barriers for laypeople to be trained in CPR?

Keywords: cardiac arrest, CPR, bystander (PubMed Search)

Posted: 9/20/2023 by Jenny Guyther, MD (Updated: 12/11/2023)
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Prior studies have shown that CPR education is associated with a greater willingness to perform CPR.  This was a review of 23 studies to determine factors that enable and hinder a layperson from learning CPR.
Enabling factors included having witnessed someone collapse in the past, awareness of public AEDs, certain occupations and legal requirements for training (i.e. mandatory high school CPR training).
Married people were more likely to be trained than those that were not married and people with children younger than 3 years were less likely to take a BLS course.  
Barriers that were found to impact people taking CPR classes included lower socioeconomic status and education level, and advanced age and language barriers.  
Bottom line: CPR education sessions should target groups with these identified barriers.

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Category: EMS

Title: Arresting and Agitating Pitfalls in Patient Restraint

Keywords: cardiac arrest, chemical restraint, ketamine, agitation, delirium (PubMed Search)

Posted: 8/30/2023 by Ben Lawner, DO
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Patient restraint is a high risk, high liability encounter for all levels of emergency medical practitioners. Often, acutely agitated patients benefit from de-escalation. This can be difficult to achieve in a resource limited setting. McDowell et al (2023) performed a comprehensive review of patient restraint encounters. Their work describes risk factors linked to adverse outcomes. Specifically, highly agitated patients who are physically and chemically restrained can experience clinical deterioration. The review also highlighted risks to EMS clinicians as well such as: needle stick, physical inury, and downstream litigation. 

Bottom line: 

Patient restraint represents a high risk encounter. 

  • De-escalation is preferred vs. physical restraint 
  • Chemical restraint likely preferred vs. physicial restraint 
  • Restraint can worsen agitation and contribute to acidosis, positional asphyxia, cardiac arrest, and other untoward outcomes
  • DO NOT place restrained patients in the prone position 
  • Policies for restraint should be vetted, socialized, and regularly reviewed with all stakeholders 

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Category: EMS

Title: What are the barriers to 911 being able to direct hands only CPR instructions to callers?

Keywords: Hands only CPR, bystander CPR, directions (PubMed Search)

Posted: 8/16/2023 by Jenny Guyther, MD (Updated: 12/11/2023)
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Bystander CPR increases out-of-hospital CPR survival and direction by 911 telecommunicators increases the frequency of bystander CPR.  The majority of 911 centers use Medical Priority Dispatch System which walks 911 telecommunicators through a series of questions that give different instructions based on the caller's answers.  Studies have shown out-of-hospital cardiac arrests are only recognized between 79-92% of the time and telecommunicator instructions for CPR can take between 176-285 seconds.

This study reviewed recorded 911 calls of patients who were found to be in cardiac arrest. Calls where the caller was not with the patient and confirmed overdoses were some of the call types that were excluded.

Out of 65 reviewed calls, 28% were not recognized during the actual call.  When they were reviewed, 8/18 of the calls were deemed to be recognizable.  Themes that were noted were: incomplete or delayed recognition assessment (ie uncertainty in breathing), communication gaps (callers were confused with instructions or questions), caller emotional distress, delayed repositioning for chest compressions, non essential questions and assessments, and caller refusal/hesitation or inability to act.

Bottom line: In addition to bystander CPR training, education on the process and questions involved in calling 911 could be helpful in an emergency.  

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Category: EMS

Title: Is a Higher MAP Better for Patients with Out of Hospital Cardiac Arrest?

Keywords: Cardiac arrest, resuscitation, emergency medical services (PubMed Search)

Posted: 8/2/2023 by Ben Lawner, DO
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There is room for improvement with respect to rates of meaningful neurological survival in patients experiencing out of hospital cardiac arrest. Post resuscitation blood pressure goals remain a matter of debate. Though a MAP of >65 mm Hg is often cited as "desirable" in the post cardiac arrest setting, some experts have advocated for a higher MAP goal to increase cerebral perfusion pressure and improve outcomes. 

This study was a retrospective review and meta-analysis that examined post cardiac arrest patients with MAP goals < 70 mm Hg and > 70 mm Hg. Over 1000 patients were included in the final meta-analysis. The primary outcome was pooled mortality. Secondary outcomes included neurologically meaningful survival, dysrhythmia, and acute kidney injury. The study detected no statistically significant difference in survival. Neurological outcomes were also similar between the two groups of resuscitated patients with out of hospital cardiac arrest. However, the study revealed statistically significant decreases in ICU length of stay and mechanical ventilation time. 

As with any retrospective review, there are important limitations to consider. Among them: Few RCTs were included and all of them were conducted in European countries. Generalizability may be limited given the differences in emergency medical services systems and resuscitation protocols. 

Study authors recommend tailoring resuscitation goals to the individual patient since arrest physiology, comorbidities, and other factors influence a patient's post cardiac arrest course. 

Bottom line: 
There is insufficient evidence to recommend arbitrary MAP goals in patients resuscitated from out of hospital cardiac arrest. 

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Category: EMS

Title: ED handoff of pediatric patients by EMS

Keywords: handoff, communication, adverse outcomes (PubMed Search)

Posted: 7/19/2023 by Jenny Guyther, MD
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Ineffective handoff communications have been shown to occur in up to 80% of medical errors.  Previous studies have shown that up to 1/3 of pertinent information is lost during the handoff of trauma patients.  Interruptions, lack of listening and ED team preoccupation with their own patient assessment have been associated with adverse outcomes.
This study reviewed videotaped footage of pediatric critical care resuscitations and the handoff between the ED and EMS.  Inefficient communication occurred in 87% of handoffs, including 51% of cases with interruptions by staff, 40% with questions from the ED leader about information that had already been given and 65% requesting information that had not yet been communicated.
Bottom line: Allow for an uninterrupted hand off from EMS followed by closed loop communication and asking any additional questions.

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Category: EMS

Title: What are risk factors in ambulance crashes?

Keywords: ambulance, crash, response, fatality, collision (PubMed Search)

Posted: 6/22/2023 by Jenny Guyther, MD
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Between 2010 and 2020, there were 279 fatalities related to ambulance accidents.  In up to 50% of accidents, EMS is not at fault.  The use of lights and sirens and intersections have been previously shown to be the most common risk factor for accidents.  There is a national push for a more judicious use of lights and sirens.  
Most ambulance crashes are minor, but up to 1/3 of crashes can result in significant injury or significant damage to the vehicle.  This study attempted to relate driver demographics and aggressive driving behavior to ambulance crashes using a vehicle telematics system.  The agency in this study responded to about 130,000 calls per year and the incident rate of any crash was 2.1/100,000 miles and the incident rate of a serious crash was 0.63/100,000 miles.  Injuries occured in 8% of the 214 crashes over the 3 year study period.  One third of the cases resulted in significant vehicle damage.  Female sex and age 18-24 were found to be independently associated with a collision.
Bottom line: Transporting patients via ambulance, especially when lights and sirens are used, is not a risk free event.  Even if injuries do not occur, the impact of damage to the vehicle can significantly impact the EMS system.


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