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.