Cardiology, Cardiology, Critical Care, Improving Outcomes, Improving Throughput, Mythbusting, Pulmonary, Radiology, Radiology

Probing the dyspneic patient.

For undifferentiated dyspnea, how would you like to have an accurate diagnosis in 24 minutes?

I love this study.

Basically, for all dyspneic patients (not trauma related, and over age 18), 10 EP’s were given an H&P, vital signs, and an EKG, as well as access to a Chest X-Ray, Chest CT, cardiologist performed echo, and labs including an ABG.

These same 2,683 patients, in tandem, had point of care ultrasound testing (lung, IVC, echo). Here’s the catch – the ultrasonographers were only provided the H&P, vital signs, and EKG then asked to make a diagnosis. The treating provider was blinded to POCUS diagnosis.

These numbers for diagnostic accuracy of POCUS are astounding.

+LR for acute HF? 22 (-LR 0.12)

+LR for ACS? 105 !!!

+LR for pneumonia? 10.5 (-LR 0.13)

+LR for pleural effusion? 95 (-LR 0.23)

+LR for pericardial effusion? 325!!! (-LR 0.14)

+LR for COPD/asthma? 22 (-LR 0.14)

+LR for PE? 345!!!

+LR for pneumothorax? 4635!!! (-LR 0.12)

+LR for ARDS? 90

Yes, for certain things like pneumonia, the difference in p-values between tradition means and POCUS diagnosis was not significantly different, but what about volume status? I cant imagine blindly giving 30 cc/kg would benefit the patient with a plethoric IVC and pleural effusion. There is some elegance a play here.

Additionally, sure, ED diagnosis for ACS had a higher LR, but they also had a cardiologist performing and interpreting echos in the ED (a rather rare siting in a US ED I would imagine) – without much improvement in their -LR (0.53 vs 0.48). For PE, the -LR of POCUS was predictably mediocre if not outright bad (0.6), while the -LR for ED diagnosis of PE, with the benefit of chest CT, was -0.10.

Now look, I get that these EP’s were quite sono-savvy. They all had 2+ years of experience, over 80 hours of ultrasound lessons & training, with at least 150 lung and 150 ED echo’s under their belt. The diagnosis was made in 24 minutes with POCUS in comparison to 186 minutes for traditional means. And while most of us can not do a year+ ultrasound fellowship, and neither can we all be as savvy with the probe as these authors (or Matt, Mike, Jacob, Resa, Laleh, etc) – it does not mean we shouldnt try. You can still greatly increase your yield just by practicing. To boot, the cognitive offload you experience by saving yourself a few hours by (correctly!) knowing which direction you are heading with a patient is an immense boon to both your mental heath & your patients well being.

Improving Throughput, Mythbusting

More No-Value Care: pre-procedure INR for cirrhotics

You have a cirrhotic patient in front of you. They need a procedure. You reflexively order a cbc, comprehensive metabolic panel, and PT/INR because you’d like to know about their platelets/ liver enzymes / coagulation ability.

Or maybe it’s a consultant who refuses to do a procedure the patient needs until you order these tests.

And then the platelets come back at 40; or maybe the INR returns at 1.4. Now what?

Do we need to transfuse platelets or FFP? Well, this case series looked at 852 consecutive cirrhotics from Jan ’11 – March ’14 who needed an invasive procedure the decision to transfuse PLT / FFP at attending discretion. Here’s a breakdown of their patient demographics:


And the number of complications:


Now, sadly, despite discussing the World Health Organization classification for bleeding events, they did not really get into the severity of bleeding events. With that said, complications were unrelated to platelet count, INR, CHILD classes, and MELD score. Only 1 in 379 paracentesis had a bleeding event, and only 2 of 228 TIPS/ CVC/ PICC/ hemodialysis/ I&D procedures had an event.

Perhaps most importantly, while attempts to normalized PLT and INR values, PLT/FFP transfusions barely affected the corresponding abnormalities, the scheduled invasive investigations were carried out in the presence of still subnormal parameters- with no or only a few bleeding complications.

Ergo, I agree with the authors, – “we have verified clinically the futility of this recommendation.”

Improving Throughput, Mythbusting, Pediatrics

Inching closer to discharging an ICH from the ED?

A few years ago, I was with an attending who was discharged a pediatric patient.  Staff in general seemed hesitant, but this was a well-loved doc who’s reply was somewhere along the lines of, “this kid looks great! Do you know how many times my kids probably had a bleed and did fine? We over CT these young things! And if he has a bleed, what are they really going to do anyway besides charge a lot of money for no appreciable intervention?”

And with that, comes this retrospective single center study of 202 children 0-18 years of age with an acute CHI, an abnormal CT (defined as both nondepressed and depressed skull fractures, subdurals, epidurals, subarachnoids, intraparenchymal hemorrhage, and intraventricular hemorrhage), and a GCS 14 or higher.

Essentially, the question is, can these patients be safely treated in an obs unit?

Exclusions were multisystem trauma, nonaccidental trauma, prior neurosurgical conditions and coagulopaths were excluded as well.   86% of patients were 5 years of age and under, and only half of all patients presented to the ED in under 6 hours.  My first reaction to this was “huh?” –  but the authors go on to state the 73% of patients had a hematoma, 11% had LOC, 30% vomited, 28% had a change in behavior, etc… so I guess it makes sense that there was a delayed presentation since parents may have initially thought their child was alright, only to later to suspect something was afoot (or perhaps patients were transferred to their ED from outside facilities?).

Fun sidenote: 17% of patients had no exam findings, so I gotta ask – why were they scanned?  To put it another way, much like the aforementioned doc had asked- how many kids have we discharged without a head CT with clinically insignificant ICH?


So what did the authors find?  ZERO children were intubated, required neurosurgical intervention, PICU admission, or died.  All were discharged within 72 hours, and 86% of patients with >1 CT finding were discharged within 24 hours!   Surprisingly, this is actually somewhat consistent with prior studies.


Ultimately, before starting this at your institute, note that there are some subtleties in the data- like that 25% epidurals with a repeat CT (3 of 12) showed a larger bleed. But really, looking at the data on patients that were admitted, I have to ask – which of these *really* needed an admission? None had an intervention aside from continued analgesia / anti-emetics.


Of note, this hospitals EDOU had an admission rate of 3-4 % – wayyyyy below national average of 15-20% – so either they’re sending home a ton of kids from obs unnecessarily, their ED is placing way too many in obs, or the rest of us have it wrong.  Which leads me to agree with the authors on the following:

“For those well-appearing children in whom CT abnormalities are visualized, an EDOU is still an appropriate place for these patients, or should early discharge with home observation also be considered?”


Will we see a time when certain types of head bleeds are treated like low risk chest pain – accelerated protocols and an abundance of EBM suggesting early discharge? Or arranging for telemedicine to circumvent many of these transfers to tertiary care centers?


PA’s- making Ada Plumer Proud.

Many years ago, nursing was not allowed to place IVs. Now, in some places, they place ultrasound guided PICCs, and in a handful of places, ultrasound guided central lines.   Nursing can titrate vasopressors, and in some facilities, they run ACLS during codes.


So…. Have you ever experienced or asked “for the doctor (or consultant)?”

Have you ever been concerned and wondered do PA’s provide appropriate care in the ED?

This study is done at the world famous Our Lady of Lourdes in Camden,NJ, with none other than the EM famous Al Sacchetti- and should aim to answer some of these concerns, at least in the pediatric population

Over a 24 month period, over 10,000 patients age 6 or younger were restrospectively evaluated for bounce back rates and broken down into 3 groups based on their provider: attending only care, PA only care, or co-evaluation by both EP and PA.  Here’s the twist- in this department, policy permits PA’s to evaluate treat and discharge patients of any age independent of the attending physician.  There are no specific protocols for assigning specific patients to specific providers, though they do state that PA’s do not perform LP’s in the study department, and that febrile infants <8 weeks were brought to the immediate attention of the attending physician by the triage nurse.  Essentially, the PA seemingly functions at a high level and fairly autonomous.

So what’d they find?  Are you more likely to “bounceback” based on who you’re seen by?

Well, as one would likely expect, a higher percentage of higher acuity patients were seen by the attending physician (85% ESI-2, 70% ESI-3, 60% ESI 4/5.), and the younger the patient, the more likely they were an “attending only” case.

Bounce backs?  Only 0.4% of PA only cases vs 0.6% of attending only cases bounced back and were admitted – not statistically significant – and below the national average of 0.83%.  Only 0.9% of PA only cases were admitted vs 4.1% of attending only cases (and 3.4% of PA/MD cases.  This was statistically significant, and likely reflects higher acuity of the cases the MD is involved in.  There was a higher rate of return visits in MD only cases – 8% vs 6.8% (statistically significant) – but the rate of return for combined MD/PA cases was highest – 9.3%.

Amongst ESI 2,3, & 4s, bounceback rates for EP only eval was consistently higher than PA only eval, and bounceback rates for MD/PA co-evaluation was consistently higher than both PA only and MD only eval.

So, what’s the take home?  For one, its that PA’s can provide high level care without a significant drop off in care… and that in order for medicine to progress, we have to cognitively offload to expand our boundaries.  This may include expanding services to nursing or PAs (as discussed above)…

And here is the most important message:

Dont be that person – if someone (nursing, PCA’s, PA/NP’s, etc) comes to you with a concern – go see a patient.  We’re all on the same team.  Take it as a compliment – as evidenced by this paper it’s likely a complex or clinically ambiguous case with a higher bounceback rate, and who doesnt like a challenge!


Improving Throughput, Mythbusting, Radiology, Radiology

Whaddaya Mean You Can’t Learn POCUS?

After taking a few one day ultrasound courses, a common theme amongst classmates is something to the effect of, “well, I get it now, but what about next week when the instructor isn’t there to guide me?”

Admittedly, I have wondered about the same thing; and wondered about the retention of knowledge and ability to apply what you have learned at these 1-2 day crash courses.

So you think you cant learn ultrasound? Or that you can not retain it after a weekend course? Well, those damn whippersnappers from Oregon are putting the non-believers to shame.

Medicine interns at Oregon Health & Science University were taught point of care ultrasound 3 months into their first year, as one day of a 5 day medical “boot-camp.” The day-long program consisted of 15-20 minutes of didactic training, and was followed by a 40 minute hands on session. Learners were placed in groups of 2-3 individuals and taught one-hour modules consisting of: the basics (knobology, physics, etc), CLUE protocol, FAST exam, hydronephrosis eval, and aorta & neck anatomy.  The 40 minute hands on portion was divided into 20 minutes for completing modules demonstrating pathology on SonoSim machines and 20 min for facilitator-led hands-on practice with volunteer models. (example- 20 didactic minutes learning FAST, 20 minutes on simulation, then 20 minutes on a real-live person!).  This was followed by two optional 1 hour courses done within 6 months.

A 30 question multiple choice test was administered prior to the course to all 33 interns, testing image interpretation, image acquisition/optimization, and clinical applications of ultrasound. The test was re-administered 6 months later; there was a significant drop out rate (27%), and it was untracked as to whom took the optional one hour courses.

Survey says?

Mean pretest scores – 61%

Mean post-test scores- 85%

Mean 6 month post-test scores – 79%

Great news – We probably intuitively know & retain much more than we think, but just have to continue to pick up the probe to hone our craft.  Bad news, I’m not certain that an ability to retain enough knowledge to improve a multiple choice test score is the same as making a correct clinical decision off of limited ultrasound skills.  Admittedly, POCUS in the wrong hands can be a problem, and making clinical decisions based off limited ultrasound skills and knowledge is a difficult leap to take, but its one we invariably have to make in order to grow as a clinician.

So, yeah, don’t tell me you can’t learn ultrasound.

Cardiology, Improving Outcomes, Mythbusting, Neurology

Chronic viral infection & Coronary disease.

Are you openly ignoring a cardiac risk factor that is in the ballpark of smoking or early family history?   Even after controlling for numerous factors, well controlled HIV has a significantly higher cardiovascular MORTALITY rate – with an adjusted rate ratio of 1.53, while poorly controlled patients even moreso, with an adjusted rate ratio of 3.53, according to this paper.  It should be noted that this is one of several papers looking into HIV as a risk factor for early cardiac disease and death.

It is important to realize the limitations of our tools that we have at our disposal.  For instance, PERC and HEART are not validated in an HIV population.

I suspect many if not all chronic viral infections will portray a similar trend. It is already seen in HepC, albeit to a lesser extent. It will be interesting to see if the new age HepC drugs decrease the known risk of increased coronary artery disease and cerebrovascular disease after treatment.

Improving Outcomes, Improving Throughput, Mythbusting, Pediatrics, Pediatrics, Pediatrics

SCI still rare in kids.

This paper demonstrates that once again, kids are quite durable.

The authors looked at 3701 patients under 19 years old evaluated for a cervical spine injury. Of the 44 patients with clinically significant cervical spine injury (CSI), 32 had plain films, none of which missed an injury.

32 out of 3701… or 0.86%

-There were ZERO patients under two years old with a CSI

Here is the caveat- one injury begets another. Of the 32 patients with CSI, ten (31%) had multiple lesions, with plain films not identifying all lesions in 4 patients. Given that, I think its fair to say CT (or admission for MRI) is warranted once an abnormality is found.

In summary, relevant cervical injuries in kids are rare (<1%), and plain films are a reasonable screening tool. CT is once again rarely needed, but beware since one injury seemingly begets another. I pretty much agree with the authors on this one,

Our calculated 100 % sensitivity (90% on PECARN, finding 168 of 186 CSI) does come with a large confidence interval and it should be expected that plain films sensitivity for CSI is likely lower in clinical practice. However, the small risk of missed injuries from plain films must be balanced against the increased risk of malignant trans- formation from performing CT scans on all children with suspected CSI.