Improving Throughput, Improving Outcomes, Radiology

Parting the SEA with the almighty H&P (& rapid MRI).

Necessity is the mother of invention, and sometimes, necessity comes in the form of hospital administration after a bad outcome. The authors of this paper, essentially developed a rapid MRI protocol for suspected spinal epidural abscess after “several cases of SEA associated with delayed diagnoses and poor outcomes prompted the chairs of the departments of emergency medicine, neurosciences, medicine, and radiology, and members of the Division of Healthcare Quality, to develop a multidisciplinary, clinical decision support tool and imaging protocol with the goal of facilitating early recognition of SEA.”

Wow. Talk about moving mountains. If you’re department is anything like mine, it takes hours to agree on where we’re getting take out from; I cant imagine adding in 4 entire departments into the lunch-ordering mix, let alone all agree on a protocol.

They took a relatively simple approach – if you have new or worsening back/neck pain AND a history of spinal abscess or current/recent (6 months) bacteremia, straight to MRI. I think the recent bacteremia often gets lost in the work up, so I appreciate that they put this front and center. If there is no recent spinal infection or recent/current bacteremia, They looked at risk factors- and I’ll make this simple and break it into 2 categories: people putting things where they dont belong (IVDA, vascular catheters, spinal procedures/injections) and the recurrently ill: ED visit or antimicrobial treatment within 30 days or an infectious process elsewhere. If yes, head to MRI.

I’m torn a bit on this- while I want to applaud the authors for not dwelling on a variety of risk factors that only a small portion of the population has – alcoholism, HIV, severe COPD, the undomiciled, HepC, oncology patients, transplant patients, etc; to say that this group is pretty much captured in the recent ED visit category probably misses a fair amount of patients on the first go-round. And here is the problem of trying to find a needle in the haystack – its hard to increase sensitivity and specificity without causing a delay at some other portion of the food chain – every stat MRI for so many additional back pain patients pushes out another patient and potentially extends at least 1 other patients length of stay.


Despite an increase from 56 MRI’s in the 7 months pre-intervention to 147 in the 7 months post-intervention, yield for a positive MRI (defined solely as SEA and not vertebral osteomyelitis or infectious discitis), went from 16.1% to 17.7%.

On first glance, that’s not a lot of improvement in yield, but they screened 3 times as many patients without losing yield! This is rather impressive. However, they tripled their ED MRI rate, and, even though they drastically cut turn around times from 8.6 hours to 4.4 hours from time of MRI order to radiology report, thats still well over 4 hours for patients with back pain in a highly optimized system. And while yes, they missed fewer SEAs, they probably still have a good percentage that they missed on first visit – the various forms of immunocompromised – the severe COPDer on repeated steroid prescriptions, the HepC patient, the elderly – these are likely missed on the first go round.

I think this is a great step towards creating a policy towards SEA workup. It needs some refinement, but is the best I’ve seen yet. It poses some issues for smaller facilities that do not have 24/7 MRI capabilities, as well as for consultants (neurology essentially becoming a house officer for ID and neurosurgery), and poses a big time crunch for the ED (again, neurology took control of these cases once the decision to MRI was performed, which the hospitalists must be thankful for!). In the end, there is no such thing as zero miss, but Baystate, with this study, demonstrates that, at least for one day, the H&P is not dead.

Critical Care, Mythbusting

Even Pharma is getting in on Vanco-PipTazo AKI

This was an entertaining 9 page meta-analysis espousing the therapeutic harm of vancomycin and pip-tazo in the form of acute kidney injury.  With a conflict of interest page that reads like a pharmaceutical mutual fund (The Medicines Company, Cubist, Pfizer, Merck, Forest/Allergan, Melinta), it’s no wonder that they infer increased mortality due to AKI, yet conveniently COMPLETELY ignore that the same papers they reference show no mortality difference – and if anything a trend towards mortality benefit for vanco-PipTazo.  Likewise, with dialysis rates <2%, the induced kidney injury is less likely to cause harm than a suboptimal drug that wont kill your bug.

They also fail to mention cefepime neurotoxicity.

There are other ways to go about this. Like, say, reviewing the damn cultures.

But in the end, since The Medicines Company and Melinta have new broad spectrum antibiotics on the market or on the way, it probably behooves them to run a slight smear campaign on current treatment regimens. Therefore, forgive me for considering the possibility that the authors intentions may not be pure.

Improving Outcomes

Review the damn cultures.

This is a multi-center observational cohort study performed over 5 years at two hospital systems. They reviewed over 1800 cases of gram negative bacteremia. About 20% of patients with a prior gram negative bacteremia (within the year) received antibiotics to which their prior cultures were resistant.

This is embarrassing. Just review the prior damn cultures. The answer isnt VancoPime reflexively for everyone. Hell, add on a dose of gentamicin, or whatever the prior cultures are sensitive to. Just write a note in the chart and explain it to the oncoming team.

Side note: bout 25% of admits within the last 90 days were resistant to ceftriaxone and cipro, with an 80% or better percentage for resistance (for ceftriaxone, ceftazidime, meropenem, cipro, or gentamicin – 61% for pip-tazo) to the same antibiotic if the same organism was isolated.

Regardless, blaming the surviving sepsis guidelines or the federal government, or whoever is simply trying to pin your own laziness on someone else. It takes no fewer than 5 minutes – and probably closer to 30 seconds – to review prior cultures. In the critically ill, this is utterly and completely unacceptable.

GI, Improving Outcomes, Mythbusting

NG tubes. just. wont. die.

My angst for the NGT has been explained in a previous post, and while this study adds to said angst, it sadly comes short of putting a nail in the coffin in the debate with surgical colleagues.
This is a retrospective single center study which enrolled 181 ED patients with SBO from September 2013 to Sept 2015, and essentially grouped patients according to whether or not a nasogastric tube was placed (49% of patients did not receive the dreaded NGT). Looking at a multitude of factors, they attempted to tease out items associated with nasogastric tube placement, and if there were any appreciable benefits to NGT placement.

Ultimately, if you are over age 70 (37% NGT+ vs 19% NGT-),  have a malignancy (30% NGT+ vs 17% NGT-), or had a prior SBO (56% NGT+ vs 32% NGT-) you’re more likely to have an NGT because, hey, one good NGT deserves another.  NGT+ patients were also less likely to have “likely / early SBO” (19% NGT+ vs 40% NGT-) on CT imaging as well.

All in all, while I’d love to point at the mean length of stays (7 days for NGT+ vs 4.2 days for NGT-; median 5 days vs 3 days), and non-statistically significant resection rates of 13% vs 9% as indications that the NGT is not needed…. well, we’re not exactly comparing apples to apples. The NGT+ patients were sicker- they were older, had higher malignancy rates, had a slightly higher surgical rate, and were more likely to have “definite SBO” on CT. Sadly, this is not the paper to put the NGT argument to rest.  We still need a larger study, preferably with matched controls, to fully put this dinosaur to rest.


Someone?  please? … anyone? please?

Improving Outcomes

Optimizing the Quinsy

So a few days ago, we discussed management of a peritonsillar abscess; while admit rates from 2012 were roughly 22% with transfer rates at 5.9%, and its probably a tough sell that rates of transfer for on-call specialties such as ENT are down significantly from, say, this 2008 paper from EMRAP paper-chaser Mike Menchine (among others).

So what can we do to optimize these patients?

For one, choosing amoxicillin-clavulanate or cefuroxime/flagyl over amoxicillin might help; as it is associated with decreased failure rates, and a decreased rate of requiring additional procedures.

Likewise, this study, found that despite having more ominous clinical findings (more likely to have trismus, peritonsillar bulges, muffled voice, uvular deviation, dysphagia, etc), as well as having radiographically larger abscesses (2.6cm vs 1.3cm), surgically treated patients were less likely to be admitted (20% vs 11%) –  with high levels of success (97% surgical success vs 95% for those treated medically). Now, perhaps this was because of more aggressive treatment in the surgical arm – they were more likely to have antibiotics in the ED (and yes, they were more frequently dosed with IV antibiotics), as well as steroids (yep, more likely to have IV steroids too), as well as fewer repeat visits. Admittedly, repeat visits were quite high (20% medical treatment vs 14% surgical treatment) – which was higher than in the previous paper discussed, which estimated a 5% repeat visit rate nationally.

So who should stay, who should go, and what to do?  I think to avoid an admission or transfer, it’s my belief that we should be maximally aggressive with Quinsy’s – IV fluids, steroids (10mg dexamethasone seems to be a reasonable), antibiotics (likely a dose of either ceftriaxone or clindamycin), and some form of analgesia (ketorolac, opiates, etc).  While medical management has significant success, it still appears somewhat suboptimal compared to surgical treatment (ie, aspiration or I&D).  Generally, I have not been a believer in IV treatments being better than PO treatments, but this seems to be one of those rare instances where it might matter; particularly if you’re trying to stave off a transfer or admission. Likewise, the immunocompromised, those with poor airways (think those with sleep apnea), the extremes of age (with older than 40 years of age having a prolonged disease course in one study!) , intractable pain, vomiting, or persistent bleeding all should be considered for observation.


Does the Quinsy need draining?

Local cultures are interesting, and variety is the spice of life. So let’s look at the ripened Quinsy fruit, shall we?

It is entirely imaginable that local practice at one tertiary care center is to perform an ED needle aspiration under endocavitary ultrasound guidance for a peritonsillar abscess and discharge the patient, while another within 100 miles may consult ENT to perform an aspiration at bedside and admit the patient.  Likewise, one community center may perform aspiration, admit the patient overnight and consult ENT in the AM, while another community ED may transfer to a nearby tertiary care center because “this patient needs ENT.”

Ultimately, none of the above is necessarily wrong, it just depends on your level of comfort; but perhaps an understanding of the patients likely disease course may change your sentiment a bit.

This is a review of data from multiple sources – the National Ambulatory Health Care Survey of Emergency Departments, the national Emergency Department Sample, and the National Inpatient Sample – to evaluation the treatment outcomes of patients with a Quinsy – also known as a peritonsillar abscess. Ultimately, they find that only 20% of patients had an incision and drainage in the ED, 73% of ED patients were discharged, (5.9% transfer, 21.6% admit) yet, only a 5% revisit rate.

Importantly, medical failure occurred only 12.4% of the time, and surgical failure (a needle aspiraton was considered a surgical intervention) occurred only 3.5% of the time. There was a 2% re-admit rate, with a <2% complication rate for both medically and surgically treated patients.

Rather than transferring patients for ENT evaluation, and providing them with quite the bill for an ambulance, its entirely reasonable to attempt ED aspiration given the low likelihood of surgical failure.  Likewise, its also reasonable to have a risk benefit discussion and explain to the patient that they have about a 10-15% chance of medical failure if they elect to not undergo an invasive procedure, provided you’ve adequately explained indications for returning to the ED; 90% likelihood of success is still quite high and you dont even have to get stabbed in the throat!

In the next post, we’ll discuss ways to optimize your patient, and red flags that aught to trigger an overnight stay.  But for now, you should feel comfortable either medically treating the patient or attempting aspiration before considering transfer.


Staph bacteremia: a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.

Whew! It’s been awhile! Back to it today, with a personal favorite topic- infectious disease.

This study, in particular, is a reminder that medicine is an incredibly humbling career.

All patients with staph aureus bacteremia at Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands between January 2013 and April 2016 were retrospectively examined, with primary outcome being newly diagnosed metastatic infection by 18F‐FDG‐PET/CT (here on out referred to as FDG-PET). Subsequent treatment modifications and mortality outcomes were also examined.

There were 148 high-risk staph aureus bacteremic patients, of which 99 underwent FDG-PET. “High risk” characteristics are associated with metastatic infection, and those characteristics are: community acquisition, signs of infection >48 hours before initiation of antibiotics, fever after 72 hours of appropriate antibiotic therapy, positive blood cultures more than 48 hours after initiation of appropriate antibiotics, or already confirmed metastatic foci at the time of presentation.

Of these 99 staph aureus bacteremic patients that underwent FDG-PET, 73.7% had metastatic focus (73 of 99); 71.2% of these patients with metastatic disease had no sign or symptom of this new focus of disease (52 of 73); and of all 73 patients with metastatic infection, 47 patients (64.4%) were diagnosed with metastatic foci in more than one organ system.

That is, 47% of all high-risk staph bacteremic patients have at least 2 organ systems infected (47/99), many of whom had no signs or symptoms. Wow.

Well, ok, but does this really matter? Maybe we just extend their antibiotics longer?

That is just partially correct. Antibiotics were prolonged 15% of the time, 10% of the time a second antibiotic was added on. 25% of time treatment duration was shortened due to no metastatic focus seen.  But…. Some form of pus drainage occurred 19% of the time (ie, 19% of all patients who underwent an FDG-PET had an otherwise unplanned drainage).

Some other pearls:

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So while I typically focus on EM articles, why do I bring up this paper? It’s not terribly uncommon for us to have the “sepsis bounceback.”  The previously critically ill who now re-presents with fever.  We’re getting a second chance to find the other foci of infection – and frankly, these are not easy diagnoses to make.  Lastly, this paper is a good serving of humble pie- with 71% of patients with a metastatic focus of infection for which they had no sign or symptom.

Staph bacteremia:  trust no one.  Believe nothing.