Eight years ago, the National Association of Emergency Medical Services Physicians (NAEMSP) and the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma (ACS-COT) released guidelines regarding withholding or terminating resuscitation in traumatic cardiopulmonary arrest (TCPA). Survival rates were extremely low (<2%) and were thought to have poor outcomes. But validation of the guidelines has been challenging, and some even doubted that EMS personnel could accurately assess these patients in the field!!
Researchers at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Chicago performed a large retrospective study of all patients in TCPA brought to their hospital by the Chicago Fire Department over at 7.5 year period. These patients met exclusion criteria but had been resuscitated anyway. Their series was relatively large (294 patients), and looked not only at the ultimate outcome, but also at EMS performance and cost.
They found that field assessments by EMS were very accurate and consistent. Violation of the guidelines resulted in only 6 survivors, and they all were resuscitated to a neurologically devastated state (4 brain dead, 1 family withdrew support, 1 sent to TCU with long-term GCS 6). No loss of neurologically intact survivors would have occurred if the guidelines were followed. Finally, the cost of trying to resuscitate these patients was $385,000 per year.
Bottom line: EMS can and should apply the NAEMSP/ACS-COT criteria for traumatic cardiopulmonary arrest and withhold resuscitation for these patients. Tragically, it is an expensive waste of time to try to bring them back.
Reference: The consequences of violating current guidelines regarding resuscitation of patients in prehospital traumatic arrest. Presented at the 34th annual Residents Trauma Paper Competition at the 89th Annual Meeting of the ACS Committee on Trauma, March 10, 2011.