[Note to prehospital providers: please comment below or email with your experience using this position.]
In my last post, I discussed the only paper I could find on the lateral trauma position (LTP). It was a survey that was taken 5 years after implementation of this transport position in Norway. Is there anything else out there that may help give us guidance on proper positioning during transport?
Just this month, a paper was published that tries to look at this issue from a different viewpoint. Since we can’t really show that the LTP is good or prove that it is truly safe, can we at least demonstrate that supine positioning might be bad?
A very diverse group of researchers in Norway performed a systematic literature review and meta-analysis of everything they could find published on supine positioning and airway patency in unconscious trauma patients, especially when compared to lateral positioning. This was carried out from the beginning of time, or 1959 in this case.
See if you can follow their progress:
- There weren’t really any good studies using this global search, so they broadened it to include trauma patients with decreased level of consciousness.
- Oops! There weren’t any studies using this broader definition, either.
- The authors wanted to use morbidity and mortality as their outcomes. But, there weren’t any good studies for this either so the decided to use indirect outcomes such as hypoxia, hypercapnea, hypoventilation, work of breathing, and a bunch of other stuff.
- Oops again! There weren’t any studies reporting these indirect outcomes.
- But when these two indirect searches were combined, a number of papers (20) were identified that were used for a meta-analysis
- A number of these papers showed soft results (language like ”indication of”, “small difference”). The only significant results were found in patients with known obstructive sleep apnea.
Bottom line: The use of the lateral trauma position is an intriguing concept, and has been used successfully in Norway for about 10 years. Intuitively, it makes sense, especially in obese patients or those with known obstructive sleep apnea. Unfortunately, this paper approached the questions asked kind of backwards, in my opinion.
I believe that LTP has a place in prehospital care, but that there will be significant barriers to adoption in most countries. In order to overcome these hurdles, clear protocols and positioning instructions will need to be developed, as well as specific indications. And it wouldn’t hurt to do a few good studies along the way. The Norwegians have helped us with the ethics questions, as it is the standard of care in that country. So write your local IRB and get busy!
Reference: Is the supine position associated with loss of airway patency in unconscious trauma patients? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Scand J Trauma Resusc Emerg Med 23:50, July 1, 2015.