Tag Archives: EMS

Need CPR? There’s An App For That!

The San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District has released an iPhone app that gives users a window into their 911 dispatch center. When you install the app, you can indicate that you are trained in CPR. Your phone then provides your GPS location, and you can be notified of any sudden cardiac arrest events in your area. You can then proceed to the incident and render assistance, if appropriate.

App users can view all active incidents and the status of dispatched units. If an ambulance passes you or you are stuck in a traffic jam, just tap the screen to find out the details. They can also be notified of incidents by type, and monitor live emergency radio traffic. 

The only downside is that leaving GPS location apps active in the background can significantly shorten your battery life. I think we can expect more communities to begin offering services like this in the near future.

Dry Seal Chest Tube Suction Systems

The original chest tube collection system traditionally consisted of three chambers. The picture above shows the classic three bottle system (which I actually remember using during residency). On the left is the suction control bottle that determines how much suction is applied to the patient. The middle bottle provides one way flow of air out of the patient, the so-called water seal bottle. Finally, the right bottle collects any fluid from the pleural space.

Collection systems used in hospitals are much more tidy than this, wrapping all three into one modular unit. However, if you look closely you can identify parts of the system that correspond to each of the bottles.

The problem with the older systems is that they typically require water in the “water-seal” chamber to maintain one-way flow out of the patient. If this chamber is compromised by knocking the system over (see this post), air may be able to enter the patient’s chest, giving them a big pneumothorax.

Management of chest tube collection systems by EMS is tough. It’s very easy to tip the system during air or ground ambulance runs, putting the patient at risk. Some manufacturers have developed so called “dry-seal” systems that use a mechanical one-way valve to avoid this problem.

I have not been able to use one of these systems yet. Here is my take on the pros and cons:

  • Pro – immune to tip-over and malfunction of the water-seal chamber
  • Con – more difficult to detect an air leak. Current models require either injection of a small quantity of water, tipping the system, or converting to a water-seal system.
  • Con – no literature regarding safety of this relatively new technology

Bottom line: Looks like a great idea to me, especially for EMS use. Once they get to the hospital, the unit can be changed to a water-seal system or a larger dry-seal system with the water injection port inthe dry-seal chamber.

Q&A: Is Undertriage Bad?

After my discourses on under- and over-triage in the last week, I received an interesting question from a reader: although undertriage seems bad from a theoretical standpoint, are there any objective negative consequences?

As you might imagine, there is little literature on this topic. The incidence is low, so it’s tough to design a study with enough power to come to any solid conclusions. There are two studies that I can cite that shed as much light on the subject as possible.

The first looks at system undertriage at the EMS level. A Canadian study looked at patients with severe injuries (identified by ISS>15 after admission) who were taken to trauma centers (correct triage) vs non-trauma centers (undertriage). After solid statistical analysis of over 11,000 patients, they found that mortality in the undertriage group was 24% higher than the correctly triaged patients.

A second study looked at undertriage in one trauma center (1,424 patients) using their standard triage criteria, not ISS. The undertriage group had a significantly lower ISS (17 vs 25). The correctly triaged patients were more frequently intubated in the ED, more likely to be admitted to the ICU, and had longer ICU and hospital stays. Mortality was not significantly different. The problem with this study is that most of the undertriage group probably did not need a trauma activation, based on their lower ISS. The higher ISS patients (who met triage criteria) needed an airway earlier and required critical care more often. These data show that the institution probably needs to adjust its triage criteria!

Bottom line: The Canadian study shows the danger of undertriage prior to reaching definitive care. There is no good literature that illustrates its danger once the patient is at a trauma center. But there is support for the converse idea that appropriately triaged patients get definitive management sooner (airway, critical care). Any takers for designing the study to answer this question?


  1. Survival of the fittest: the hidden cost of undertriage of major trauma. J Amer Col Surgeons, 211:804-811, Dec 2010.
  2. Outcome assessment of blunt trauma patients who are undertriaged. Surgery 148(2): 239-245, Aug 2010.

Seatbelt Use By Trauma Professionals

Every trauma professional knows that seat belts save lives. Numerous studies have borne out the survival benefits of wearing them. But do those same professionals practice what they preach?

A recent study by NHTSA study showed that at least 42% of police officers killed in car crashes were not wearing their seat belts. The number of officers killed in traffic accidents in 2010 has increased by 43% over 2009 numbers. Possible reasons may be that seat belts impede the process of getting into and out of the car quickly, and that the belt may get tangled in utility and gun belts.

What about paramedics and EMTs? I couldn’t find any studies looking at this group. However, observation tells me that medics in the patient care compartment don’t always buckle up. The reason typically given is that wearing a belt may compromise patient care by limiting access to equipment, using the radio, or performing CPR. However, I think that patient care is even more limited if the EMS professional is disabled or killed in a rig crash. The patient is much more likely to survive such a crash since they are firmly strapped into place.

How can you stay safe in the back?

  • Make a commitment to your colleagues (and family) to always belt in
  • If appropriate, try to do as much of your assessment and interventions as possible before moving
  • Organize your work area so that commonly used and critical equipment is within easy reach
  • Use a cell phone for communication if the radio mic is too far away
  • If you absolutely do need to unbelt, try to do so only when the rig is stopped at a light or stop sign.

I’m interested in your comments about how common of a problem this really is. Unfortunately, I don’t think NHTSA will be doing any studies on this one.

Removing The Backboard

Backboard usage by EMS is an important part of patient safety. It keeps the patient from injuring themselves or others within the confines of the ambulance or helicopter. But too much of anything is bad, and this is true of backboards as well. As little as 2 hours on a board can lead to skin breakdown. The most common reason that patients are not taken off boards sooner is concern for spine fractures. But the reality is that the board is not necessary once the patient arrives in the ED. If the spine is broken and they are admitted as an inpatient, they will be on log roll precautions on a regular hospital bed and mattress! I recommend that hospitals develop a policy for getting all patients off backboards as quickly as possible. The most convenient time is during the logroll to examine the back during the ATLS evaluation. Note: do not do a rectal exam during the logroll because this will cause the patient to wiggle more than you would like while they are up on their side. The goal should be to get the backboard removed within 20 minutes of patient arrival. I recommend placing a slider board under them if they will be visiting diagnostic areas like CT scan. But as soon as all studies are finished, pull the slider board as this can cause skin problems as well. Ideally, board removal should be documented, and this whole process can become a PI project.

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