GI, Mythbusting

Haloperidol- one anti-emetic to rule them all.

When all else has failed, and the patient does not meet admission criteria, where do patients go?  Obs, of course!  I view it as a valuable tool to augment my ED armamentarium.  Specifically, for instances like, say, gastroparesis or cyclic vomiting.

This randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial was performed at two urban hospitals looking at patients with a previous diagnosis of gastroparesis comparing conventional therapy + placeo to conventional therapy + 5mg of IV haloperidol.  They looked at pain severity and nausea every 15 minutes for 1 hour.  Secondary outcomes were disposition status (hospital admission or discharge), ED length of stay, and nausea resolution at 1 hour.  Sadly, they only looked at 33 patients total over a two year study period.

While the two groups were similar in terms of the conventional therapy received, in the haloperidol group, disposition was made sooner and more patients were discharged home, with a significant reduction in pain at one hour (on a scale of 0-10, a mean improvement of 5.37 vs 1.11 in favor haloperidol), as well a reduction in nausea at one hour (scale of 0-5, improvement of 2.7 vs 0.72 in favor of haloperidol).  Fewer patients were admitted (26.7% vs 72.2%) who received haloperidol, with median length of stay shorter for haloperidol (4.8 hrs vs 9 hrs).  Surprisingly, patients in the haloperidol group experienced no adverse events, including QT prolongation and dystonic reactions.  This is probably due to small sample size.

This does not address haloperidol as sole treatment,  and at only a few dozen patients in this study, certainly does not solidify haloperidol’s use as first line.  However, it does add to the pile of data showing haloperidol as safe and efficacious in these patients.  As an aside, if your hospital is anything like mine, you can not give haloperidol IV, so I’ve trialed 5-10mg IM.  Over the last 4-5 years, I’ve become fond of IM haloperidol for refractory vomiting, and (anecdotally) I’ve used it dozens of times with high rates of success.

So yes, better analgesia, decreased nausea, fewer admissions, and decreased LoS with haloperidol.  Pretty much everything you want.  I just wish a broader study in non-specific abdominal pain with vomiting would compare haloperidol as singular treatment and compare it to standard care.

Look, there are some patients who are vomiting so profusely that they seemingly require an exorcism.  For those patients, I think adding a bit of haloperidol for symptomatic relief does not have much downside, I just wouldnt go mixing multiple QT prolonging agents at once.

So, I ask, whats downside?

Improving Outcomes, Mythbusting, Radiology, Radiology

Spinal Abscess: The Baystate Review

This is a review of all spinal abscesses at Baystate (total 162), from 2005 – 2015.  They compare 88 randomly selected controls whom had similar ICD-codes less the spinal abscess plus an MRI that was negative for acute infectious process. 

Interesting take home points, much of which is consistent with prior (albeit scant) literature:

-73% of patients are over age 50.

-more likely to have their second visit (50.6% vs 29.6% of controls) – though this 50.6% of patients with a second visit is surprisingly low for me – no word on how many were sent home from the ED, and had an MRI as an outpatient that were not included in this calculation.; or maybe we’re getting better at finding the needle in the haystack?  Or maybe we’re MRI’ing everyone?

-Many received antibiotics within the month: (35.2% vs 6.8% of controls) – this signifies a huge red flag for me.  If a patient revisits the ED and recently had pyelo (or anything infectious really), and now presents with back pain, probe a bit more for the possibility of vertebral osteo or discitis. 

-percentage of patients with history of IVDA: 20.4% vs 4.6% … this number seems low, but also is somewhat in line with prior studies – thus making me wonder how many I’ve missed…

– percentage of patients with alcoholism with a spinal abscess: 19% vs 8% – the more I get interested in ID, the more I realize that alcoholism is basically a form of immunosuppression.

-percentage of spinal abscess patients with obesity 21.6% vs 2.3%; I’m surprised only 2.3% of controls were obese.  Not sure what role this plays as being a diabetic in and of itself was not associated with a higher increased risk in this study.

-fever was present 62.4% in those with a spinal abscess vs 13.6% of those without; this includes self reported fever, which I have to wonder how often we sweep this aside when the patient is afebrile in the ED.

-16% had no identifiable risk factors; a third of the patients  presented with back pain, fever, neurologic deficits vs 6%

-Other symptoms and signs related to potential spinal cord impingement were seen with similar frequencies and of similar durations among cases and controls- meaning, focal deficits seen in both groups.

-noncontiguous co-infection: 53.7% of time (pneumonia, distant osteo, endocarditis… of those with a co-infection, 20% had more than one).

-blood cultures were positive 63.4% of the time, and >75% of the time it was staph Aureus. 

-Majority of lesions were found in the L-spine at 56.2%  – which means almost half are elsewhere!

-while “admits” for spinal abscess were up from 2.5 to 8 in 10,000 admissions from 2005 to 2015, I have to believe that number is somewhat inflated as admits like chest pain, pneumonia and renal colic probably decreased, while MRI became more readily available. 

All in all, this paper is pretty much in line with others on this topic, and strengthens the signal a bit for certain key points: a good number of spinal abscesses are not in the L-spine; many patients are older than you think, and, among other things: its more than just IVDA. 

Critical Care, Improving Outcomes, Mythbusting

Procalcitonin: Holy Grail, or Holy Sh*t ?

Procalcitonin is marketed as, “a marker of broad routine use, both for differential diagnosis of bacterial infection as well as for antibiotic stewardship.

But is it?  This study looks at 107 ICUs that had >25 sepsis cases in 2012, and had an ability to perform procalcitonin (PCT) levels on their septic patients, and essentially looked to compare the outcomes of those that had PCT ordered and those that did not.  All in all, there were about 17,000 septic patients without a PCT ordered, and about 3800 patients with a slightly lighter wallet and slightly more anemic after their admission than their comparators.

There was little difference in baseline characteristics – save for those having PCT ordered more likely hailing from the West (27.9% of PCT orders vs 12.7% of those not getting PCT ordered) and the opposite holding true for the South (55.3% without vs 49% with PCT).  PCT was slightly less ordered at teaching facilities (37.8% of septic patients without PCT orders vs 31.9% of those with a PCT ordered).  All other OR were <1.25.

There was no difference in length of stay and no differences in mortality.

There was an increase in days of antibiotic treatment for those in whom a PCT was ordered (relative risk increase 1.17), and with that an accompanying increase in Cdiff (OR 1.42) .  Of course, 1 PCT begets another (33% of the time, and about 3 days later).  Patients with serial PCT orders had higher rates of antibiotic use, higher Cdiff, and again, no mortality benefit.

Stop the madness.  Indiscriminately ordering tests that will not change management should not be done.  And they certainly should not be repeated.


TXA’s post-partum fragility

Warning: An American on TXA.

The WOMAN trial was an international randomized double-blind placebo controlled trial across 193 hospitals in 21 countries looking at TXA use for morbidity and mortality for post-partum hemorrhage.

First off, this was a massive undertaking as this was an enormous trial – about 10,000 patients in each treatment arm, with fantastic follow up- only 31 of about 20,060 total patients were lost to follow up. If the treating provider was unclear as to the utility of TXA for post-partum hemorrhage control, the patient was randomized 1:1 to placebo or 1g of TXA, and if the bleeding continued after 30 min or stopped and restarted within 24 hours of the first dose, a second dose (1g TXA) or placebo was given. Baseline characteristics were quite similar between the placebo and TXA arms.

So since social media is clamoring, and since this is published in the Lancet, there must be a mortality benefit, right?

This is where I point out three things:

1) there was no difference in mortality (2.3% vs 2.6% – favoring placebo)

2) TXA had 0.4% fewer patients who experienced death due to post-partum hemorrhage

3) this was accompanied by a p value of 0.045, and a fragility index of…..

Screen Shot 2017-04-27 at 10.58.18 PM


A study of 20,000+ patients, and a p-value of 0.045, and a fragility index of zero.  And again, the most patient-centered outcome possible- mortality – favored placebo.

TXA is not the magic bullet in this instance.  There is a weak signal of benefit if you are proceeding to laparotomy for bleeding – particularly for caesaean delivery (1.5% vs 2.4% mortality benefit, fragility index of 4), but that is an exploratory analysis needing further review, otherwise, this is a flimsy trial.  While TXA remains inexpensive, it is worth a go- particularly in low-resource areas after laparotomy (provided TXA is still inexpensive there), but by no means does a clinician not giving it deserve to be chided – the evidence is incredibly fragile and not worthy of social media’s  “life-saving” claims – at least for post-partum hemorrhage.

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?