Prehospital and En Route Cricothyrotomy Performed in the Combat Setting: A Prospective, Multicenter, Observational Study


Barnard EB, Ervin AT, Mabry RL, Bebarta VS 14(4). 35 - 39 (Journal Article)

Introduction: Airway compromise is the third most common cause of potentially preventable combat death. Surgical cricothyrotomy is an infrequently performed but lifesaving airway intervention. There are limited published data on prehospital cricothyrotomy in civilian or military settings. Our aim was to prospectively describe the survival rate and complications associated with cricothyrotomy performed in the military prehospital and en route setting. Methods: The Life-Saving Intervention (LSI) study is a prospective, institutional review boardapproved, multicenter trial examining LSIs performed in the prehospital combat setting. We prospectively recorded LSIs performed on patients in theater who were transported to six combat hospitals. Trained site investigators evaluated patients on arrival and recorded demographics, vital signs, and LSIs performed. LSIs were predefined and include cricothyrotomies, chest tubes, intubations, tourniquets, and other procedures. From the large dataset, we analyzed patients who had a cricothyrotomy performed. Hospital outcomes were cross-referenced from the Department of Defense Trauma Registry. Descriptive statistics or Wilcoxon test (nonparametric) were used for data comparisons; statistical significance was set at ρ < .05. The primary outcome was success of prehospital and en route cricothyrotomy. Results: Of the 1,927 patients enrolled, 34 patients had a cricothyrotomy performed (1.8%). Median age was 24 years (interquartile range [IQR]: 22.5-25 years), 97% were men. Mechanisms of injury were blast (79%), penetrating (18%), and blunt force (3%), and 83% had major head, face, or neck injuries. Median Glasgow Coma Scale score (GCS) was 3 (IQR: 3-7.5) and four patients had GCS higher than 8. Cricothyrotomy was successful in 82% of cases. Reasons for failure included left main stem intubation (n = 1), subcutaneous passage (n = 1), and unsuccessful attempt (n = 4). Five patients had a prehospital basic airway intervention. Unsuccessful endotracheal intubation preceded 15% of cricothyrotomies. Of the 24 patients who had the provider type recorded, six had a cricothyrotomy by a combat medic (pre-evacuation), and 18 by an evacuation helicopter medic. Combat-hospital outcome data were available for 26 patients, 13 (50%) of whom survived to discharge. The cricothyrotomy patients had more LSIs than noncricothyrotomy patients (four versus two LSIs per patient; ρ < .0011). Conclusion: In our prospective, multicenter study evaluating cricothyrotomy in combat, procedural success was higher than previously reported. In addition, the majority of cricothyrotomies were performed by the evacuation helicopter medic rather than the prehospital combat medic. Prehospital military medics should receive training in decision making and be provided with adjuncts to facilitate this lifesaving procedure.

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