Without evidence of benefit, an intervention should not be presumed to be beneficial or safe.

- Rogue Medic

Second comment from Anonymous on Teaching Airway – Part I

Also posted over at Paramedicine 101. Go check out the rest of what is there.

There is also a thoughtful analysis of airway management and intubation in Airways and ET tubes… at 9-Echo-1.

In the comments to Teaching Airway – Part I – comment from Anonymous, Anonymous writes –

Hi, me again…Nothing brings out a good post from you better than BS. Your best posts come from you when you’re challenged.

Thank you.

So I get to respond to your post…

Science shows us what works. Anecdote can show us areas to examine scientifically, but basing treatment on anecdote is bad patient care. We need to base treatments on science.

Yes, but studies can’t be started and performed without anecdotal evidence to steer research. We have to do a few things wrong to figure out what’s right.

I agree. Although there may be some research that is begun without some anecdotal evidence to support it, that is probably rare.

We do have to do a few things wrong to figure out what’s right. We spend too much time on punishing mistakes, rather than looking for ways to avoid those mistakes. We are taking the wrong approach to figuring out what is right.

I see this as a reflection of insecurity and ignorance by those in charge. Those in charge are insecure because of their ignorance. Maybe they just do not know how to do things well, but they do not seem to be doing the right things to learn how to do things well. One easy way to learn how to do things well. Find somebody doing it well, and ask them for some ideas. In Too Many Medics? comment from Anonymous, I included the abstracts from 2 systems that demonstrate excellence at intubation.

One of our big problems is that we do not look at bad outcomes as opportunities to learn how not to keep making the same mistake. We look at bad outcomes as an excuse to punish somebody. Why learn from our mistakes, when we can deny that we made a mistake, and punish someone else for our mistake? Win – Win? Right?

That has never been my position. I want medics to use the right tool to accomplish the job. The job is patient care.

I know and I really don’t expect anything less from you. I’m not doing this for the check.

I need the paycheck, but I could probably make more in a different line of work. If I had gone into a different line of work, I would have less debt at the end of the month.

There are some medics, that I do not want to be allowed to intubate. Those are the medics, who do not intubate competently. According to the studies of prehospital intubation, there are a lot of these medics out there.

I agree 100%, but how do you sort them out, in a city wide system, with poor medical command, that sometimes barely has a budget to even staff trucks.

That is probably the thing that is going to have the greatest effect on who should intubate. A system, like the one you describe, will have a lot of horrible medics, but do nothing to get rid of them. Or just a little more than nothing.

A system that gets rid of maybe one bad medic a year, but has a couple dozen bad medics, and has them training new medics, is not likely to stop getting worse. That is a system that is not getting better, but getting much worse. Everybody sees that the bad medics are tolerated. Sure they sacrifice one every year, or maybe every other year, just so they can say that they do something about bad quality. They make it seem as if they are doing something significant, but what they really are doing is telling everyone that they are not serious, or that they really are too stupid to understand.

Who are they?

They are the medical director, the chief, the CEO, the City Manager, the QA/QI/CYA department, the union, and all of their accomplices.

Anyone, who has one of those jobs is responsible for eliminating bad patient care. All of them have that responsibility, but few seem to do anything significant to eliminate bad patient care.

The same medics that keep the CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) stuffed under the seat because “we’re right down the street from the hospital, we’ll just use meds” attitude. I’ve seen it and it’s scary.

I’m NOT supporting these systems, but how do you change it?

That is a good question. There needs to be somebody who just insists that patient care be the priority. That needs to come from the top. When the bosses get on camera and defend horrible care, there is no reason to expect things to change until that boss is gone, and probably some others, too.

I have no problem with competent medics intubating when it is appropriate. We are learning that intubation may not be appropriate for some patients, who used to be routinely intubated. We need to learn more about when intubation is appropriate.

Yes, again I agree, in fact I use CPAP, NTG (NiTroGlycerin), and Ace inhibitors on a regular basis and I don’t drop a tube, in fact most, are turned around at the hospital. The CHF I described carried down on the Reeves was unresponsive and wasn’t going to fit in a stairchair, so yes, my partner bagged, I put in a line, NTG paste w/3 sprays in a foamy mouth (no IV NTG), Lasix (which I rarely give because CPAP works so well), and Captopril 125. Then I suctioned the pt and tubed while waiting for fire to help carry out my pt. The pt waited to long. Indicated for intubation. I saw that pt again, alive, and good for them. You’ve had that pt before, most medics have.

Was that pt saved by the tube? No idea, yep, no idea. Would CPAP work, no. Would a KingLT which we carry work, maybe, no idea, didn’t use it. I saw need for a tube and did it because it was indicated, could I have just bagged that pt, sure, would have been a bitch, but it could be done. I have even used the ramp on the KingLT to place a successful tube, it’s was pretty cool actually. The problem is these patients are still presenting while science and training catch up or figure out what’s best for the patient and when you FINALLY get people comfortable the rules change. Little and large systems seems to continue to fail, and most likely to “follow the dollar” where other systems seem to always be on top of things.

There are patients like that. Sometimes they do not have time to call, because the onset is so rapid. The train wrecks will not necessarily be any better, regardless of what we do. Positive pressure ventilation (CPAP) is probably the most important treatment for this patient. Next most important is high dose NTG. 10, 20, 50, 100 NTG sprays – whatever it takes. As long as the blood pressure does not dramatically drop. I have given over 50 NTG sprays and still not had the systolic pressure drop to even 200, in some patients. We are unnecessarily afraid of NTG. Hypertensive CHF patients tend to be resistant very resistant to the effects of NTG. The only reason not to be giving 3 to 5 sprays/tabs at a time to hypertensive CHF patients is having a bad protocol.

The NTG paste makes no sense. You are applying it to the skin to be absorbed by the circulation to the skin, but the patients skin signs indicate that the circulation to the skin is just not there.

Pale – due to a lack of hemoglobin reaching the skin.

Cool – due to a lack of the warmth from blood reaching the skin.

Diaphoretic Sweaty – due to the large amounts of adrenaline being released by a body in hypoxic panic. The adrenaline shunts the circulation away from the skin.

The circulation needs to pick up the NTG from the paste on the skin to take it to where it is needed in the pulmonary circulation. It is not needed on the outside of the skin, unless we are looking for ways to accidentally expose our coworkers to NTG.

A great example of this is when someone is suturing a laceration and injects lidocaine with epinephrine (epinephrine is adrenaline). The skin around the injection site becomes more pale, as you are watching. This is what is going on to all of the skin on the pale, cool, sweaty patient. This is one reason that it does not make sense to use NTG paste. The other reason is that the low dose of the NTG paste is like trying to make the tide rise by urinating in the ocean. With precise enough tools, we may be able to measure a minuscule difference, but it does not make any noticeable difference. The epinephrine is shunting the blood away from the skin, not the lidocaine. The lidocaine is for pain relief. The epinephrine is to minimize bleeding during suturing.

As far as educating residents and stopping them from pulling my KingLT, the second you find an answer to that then post it immediately, I’m up for anything with that.

The best way to educate the residents is to educate the attendings. Maybe I have been spoiled, but I have found that the attendings are willing to look at different ways of doing things, if you present it to them in a way that makes sense. You may find that it takes several years to get them to actually change things, but I have found that they are willing to listen. Then it becomes a matter of politics. How do you identify the attending most likely to do something about it? Doctors are more likely to listen to other doctors. Good reasons coming from a medic are less likely to persuade a bunch of doctors, than the same reasons coming from another doctor.

If you are worried about the resident being able to do something that you might not be permitted to do, then there is an excellent way to frustrate them.

I get that secret smile when I turned the pt prior to arrival also.

You lost me on that one.

As I have repeatedly stated, I do not wish to remove intubation from the paramedic scope of practice. However, I definitely do not want dangerous medics intubating.

I really do know that, and I agree. I have family that I really wouldn’t want some of these medics even touching them.

I kind of figured that.

Maybe we should use the term alternative paramedic for those not capable of maintaining adequate intubation skills.

True, but I have seen a few attendings reach for a LMA because they couldn’t get an ETT placed. What is their standard for maintaining skills? Are they are judge? I’ve taken many ACLS classes over the years and every ED doc shows up but shows no initiative and participates. Here’s your card doc, oh and did I mention your codes, run like 1998.

The hospital decides what their rules are. Some restrict some skills to only certain doctors, while others may not have any restrictions for any doctor, as long as the doctor maintains a state license and malpractice insurance. Most are probably somewhere in between these extremes. It has been my experience that some ED attendings, board certified in EM, are scary at intubation and airway management in general. Others are great. I have sat in the parking lot to intubate some patients, because they were not responding to medical treatment, I knew that they would be intubated soon, and I knew who was the on duty attending. Why subject the patient to that doctors obligatory 2 or 3 failed intubation attempts, followed by a call to anesthesia and a waltz-by intubation, when they could come in with a tube in place and have less iatrogenic harm?

Some doctors just do not seem to get airway management. We all have our blind spots. I keep trying to minimize mine.

As we have learned more about airway management, we have come to realize that the Gold Standard is not intubation. We old timers were taught that intubation is the Gold Standard, but we were taught a lot of other things that are just plain wrong. The Gold Standard is what is best for the patient. The gold Standard is excellent patient care.

I’m not that old, and would NEVER disagree with that statement.


Where is the evidence that prehospital intubation is better patient care than prehospital alternative airway use?

I’ve got none, and I’m not going to claim it, they are really new prehospital, around here anyway. LMA’s have been around for awhile but as far as I know no squad, at least in my area ever carried them. However I’m sure your reply will have a stat.

I will have to follow up with some posts on prehospital LMAs. There are services using them. There has been research on prehospital LMA use, but it is going to take a while to go through it and come up with something thorough.

Maybe research will end up showing that replacing the alternative airway is indicated some of the time, but not indicated other times. We do not currently have research to determine which is better.


After all, anesthesia seems to be leading the way in airway management, and they are increasing their use of LMAs. That may be where the rest of in-hospital airway management is headed.

You do not appear to be familiar with ICU care. Patients with the need for long term ventilation will have the endotracheal tube replaced by a tracheotomy tube. Apparently, the doctors do not consider your endotracheal tube to be permanent.

I’ve suctioned enough of them, I am aware for long term, in my head I was focusing on pt’s that should have turned around and are only on a vent for a few days to a week. The patient that I knew would probably turn around if we were all aggressive on in the beginning, the CHF pt who was just to weak, but after being medicated, tubed, and cleared out, would allow the tube to be pulled assuming all the ABG values looked good.

Even that may change. VAP (Ventilator Associated Pneumonia) is a big concern in hospitals. It seems to fall into the never event category. As Ambulance Driver mentioned, hospitals are paying attention to the cost of care. They are going to try to cut down on costs, so I expect that we will see a lot more use of LMAs in the hospital, even if they don’t improve outcomes or expenses, but because they might and hospitals are all about saving money.

No waveform, then the tube is pulled, PERIOD.

Yeah, even I slapped myself for that statement, I got out of control. Let me explain what I was thinking. If I place a blind tube and don’t see a good waveform then the tube is pulled. This is on a patient that should show an ETCO2 reading. I could expand on it more but I think you get the jist.

Please send video of you slapping yourself. I am not above cheap sensationalist publicity. 😉

As I understand it, unless there are conflicting assessments, if there is no good wave form, the tube should be pulled. At least, that is the way I approach confirmation, and I get the impression that we agree.

Again, I do not wish to remove intubation from the paramedic scope of practice. More important is that, I definitely do not want dangerous medics intubating.

Again, how do we fix it?

I think the first thing is that we need agreement on what should be minimum standards, but that has to come mostly from the medical directors.

We need research to show what the differences are between places that intubate well and those that, even though the service may have some people who are great at intubation, the service overall does a horrible job of intubating patients. To do that we need well done research, which you get into below.

We need very well done research in places that intubate well, that are large enough to show what conditions are likely to benefit from intubation. There will always be good reasons for deviating from the typical treatment, but we do not even have research to clearly show that intubation does not cause harm.

We probably need a separate designation for medics permitted to intubate. I don’t know if it should be like the EMT-D add on for defibrillation, or whether it should be something like the critical care paramedic certification, with an broader scope of practice than whatever the regular paramedic would be. There are many ways of handling this.

I think this would be an important part of what Ckemtp is trying to do with EMS 2.0 over at Life Under the lights. My initial impression was that this is just going to be another passing fad, but I think he might be on to something. We need to transform EMS from a trade to a profession. Airway management is one of the areas, where EMS really needs to push the doctors to improve. We do not have the authority to change the rules, but I don’t see any reason to let that stop me. EMS 2.0 is also covered in Ckemtp, EMS 2.0 – Momentum Building, Happy Medic, Medic999, Too Old To Work, Too Young To Retire, Ambulance Driver, and even The Fire Critic and Firegeezer.

Waveform capnography?

EMS – Yes, usually. In Pennsylvania, it is mandatory for ALS.

ED – No. Some places have it, but most do not seem to use it.

One-on-one observation of patients for heavy sedation/aggressive pain management?

EMS – Yes, what are we going to do, leave?

ED – No, this requires rearranging staffing and will be done, if necessary, but is certainly not the baseline level of care. Generally, each ED nurse has 3 patients, or more.

These are just a couple of examples of ways EMS should be pushing patient care forward. As I wrote in EMS Needs to Be a Separate Medical Specialty – Now – Part I.

cont still…damn restrictions…

Of the 88 patients who were transported by ground, 46 (52%) were successfully intubated in the prehospital setting and 42 (48%) had a failed PHI (PreHospital Intubation)

Scary stats, but failed why? Attempted but unable to place or, attempted and misplaced. That’s a big difference. If I miss a tube and I can’t get it, if I’m still able to oxygenate the pt to keep the stats up then it’s still successful, I just may not be able to move on to additional treatments. It sucks but it happens. If I misplace a tube then I’m killing my patient and think I’m helping. If I stick a blade in the patients mouth, it’s an attempt if I try to tube or not, even if it’s to suction to even clear an airway. If I have to do this on 5 of 10 patients then I’m at a 75% success/failure attempt rate. Data can be manipulated to favor for or against. It all looks bad on a pie chart, something we all learned in statistics at college.

I think there are plenty of problems with the data from Miami, but nobody has come out and provided documentation of these flaws. There is one very interesting rumor that I have heard. I do not like dealing in rumors, but I am hoping that somebody reading this will be able to document this, or get the medical director(s) involved to set the record straight, at least if the rumor is true.

The rumor is that in at least one of the services studied, the medical director strongly encouraged the use of alternative airways as true alternatives to intubation, rather than as back up airways, for airway management. However, the way the success/failure of intubation was determined was based on just two things. Was there any kind of airway intervention – BVM, CombiTube, LMA, crichothyrotomy, endotracheal tube, unrecognized esophageal tube. If any of those methods of airway management were being used, but there was not a properly placed endotracheal tube, this was considered a failed intubation.

After two ETI attempts, placement of a Combitube is considered as a rescue airway measure.

For this study, members of the Department of Anesthesiology assessed the airways of patients at their admission to the trauma bay. We defined prehospital airway management as paramedics having had an active role in managing the patient’s airway through a variety of approaches, including ETI, laryngeal mask airway (LMA), and Combitube and/or cricothyroidotomy.We defined a failed PHI as the improper localization of an endotracheal tube (ETT) on arrival at the trauma center or the need to use alternative rescue devices for airway management after intubation attempts.

Prehospital intubations and mortality: a level 1 trauma center perspective.
Cobas MA, De la Peña MA, Manning R, Candiotti K, Varon AJ.
Anesth Analg. 2009 Aug;109(2):489-93.
PMID: 19608824 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

If the CombiTube is used as an initial airway measure, it is definitely not a rescue airway measure. If the doctors assessing the intubations were not familiar the way that airway management was being performed, then their determination of all CombiTubes as failed intubation attempts would be wrong.

From the way I read the study, if a CombiTube, or LMA, salesperson happened to stop at an accident scene and placed an airway, but the patient was transported by a BLS ambulance (no endotracheal tubes anywhere on the ambulance), this might have been classified as a failed endotracheal tube attempt. They might have presumed that paramedics were involved in the management of the airway, since they consider the ConbiTube to be only a rescue airway, rather than an alternative airway. I don’t think they would have done the same for a BLS crew transporting with just BVM airway managment if no ALS was available. From the system design, it is possible that all 911 ambulances have a medic on board. Still, there is no good reason why a BLS interfacility transport ambulance could not arrive on scene, deliver excellent care, realize that the closest ALS is at the hospital, and transport. BVM only. No possibility of endotracheal tube. According to the study, it might be classified as a failed intubation attempt.

Well, that is the thing that bothers me the most. Is the rumor true?

If the rumor is true, how many patients classified as having missed endotracheal tube attempts, never had any endotracheal tube attempts?

If the rumor is true, how can the researchers publish this without disclosing that variable? A variable that should have been controlled for, but if the rumor is true, a variable that was not controlled for.

You claim that you know that it is necessary. How do you know?

Only by experience, discussions with our command doc, and in my training and education I’ve receive to date that I’m acting in the best interest of my pt.

This is one of the reasons we need to have good research. It is unfortunate, but apparently medical school does not do a good job of preparing doctors to interpret research. If they cannot even interpret the research correctly, what is the research they design going to look like? We need to start doing a much better job of educating people about research and the scientific method.

You also claimed that there is no research showing worse than a 75% prehospital intubation success rate.

Again, results can be biased.


The difference between good research and bad research is that the good research goes to extremes to exclude the influence of bias. Bad research may not recognize bias, or may come up with pathetic excuses for using the biased methodology. Not that there aren’t other ways of creating bad research.

Some of the reasons I started this blog are:

To educate people about research.

To get people to discuss research.

To get people to look critically at research, rather than just say, That is too complicated for me.

To get people to seek out research to persuade doctors of better ways to provide patient care.

For your last regarding how medics should be trained and certified I agree, but is it possible and should MD’s/Residents be held to the same standards.

I think that doctors should be held to higher standards than medics. This is one of the reasons for having EMS as a separate medical specialty. Sort of a way of saying, If you want to make contributions to EMS, this is the background you need to have. If you do not meet the criteria for board certification as an EMS physician, then go away. We still have too many non-emergency medicine physicians in the EDs, but this would be a start.

We are facing a lot of misunderstanding/obstacles from doctors, who think they understand EMS, even though they do not. That is one thing holding EMS back. Our patients deserve better.

Should we add a new cert level?


Forget about EMS 2.0, we’re going straight to EMS 3.14159 . . . . Well Vince may enjoy the math humor, even if not many others do. 🙂

I think that we need to be continually assessing the appropriateness of the different levels. Just because this is the way things have been done, does not mean that it is the way things should be done. There will be a lot of change in EMS. We should be doing things to try to make the changes good for the patients. Maybe a different certification. Maybe just more widespread use/recognition of the EMP-CC (critical care) level. Maybe much fewer medics and a lot more medical directors growing a set (metaphorically only, since some are women). We need to have an organization with the authority and the understanding to keep us moving in the right direction. I do not see the DOT (Department of Transportation) as that organization. Anything that combines EMS with firefighting, police, homeland security, or any other Wouldn’t it be cool if we could be used as an excuse for them to syphon off money for their pet projects? agency.

Love your posts, I’ve read them all. You too AD.

Thank you. As you have noticed, I enjoy a good debate. I think that we will not change things until we have identified all of the problems. I certainly do not have all of the answers. I don’t even have all of the questions. You contribute a lot to the discussion.

I’m on your side I promise. You really could take my blade away, I really do only tube as a last resort and I like Mystery Medic’s idea. Glidescopes are nice.

You point out one of the problems. The ones in need of having intubation taken away are the ones who will fight to the death (the patient’s) to keep intubation, but will resist any refresher/retraining/minimum requirements. They do not get that this is about the patients, not about making medics feel good, briefly, before going back to the routine calls that we do not feel challenged by.

I have not used the Glidescope. I have read good things about it. I think that it has the same potential for leading to bad outcomes as anything else – too much focus on the airway, as if the airway is not connected to a patient. A patient, who might not even have primarilly an airway problem. How many patients suffer anoxic brain damage because of intubation attempts? This is something that we should be able to avoid with excellent oversight, but we do need that oversight.

What do you feel about walking a pt to the bathroom around a corner in the house after getting diltiazem for rapid Afib that reduces and refuses to go with you to the hospital unless she can pee, assuming she is is on O2 and the monitor. Had a partner almost have her own stroke on my decision.

I have probably induced a few TIAs in partners, nurses, doctors, et cetera. If the patient has the capacity to make informed decisions about her own care, she may do pretty much anything that we think is unwise/dangerous.

We can pretend that we know that allowing a patient to do something, that we think is a bad idea, will kill them or make them much worse, but we do not know that. We can present them with all of the information about why we think it is a bad idea, but unless we are abducting the patient, or been given power of attorney, or have involuntarily committed them, . . . we do not have the authority to force the patient not to do what we think is unwise, nor do we have the authority to force patients to do something that we think is essential.

I will write more about this, because it is important and we seem to be very poorly prepared to deal with patients who do not agree with us. I just graduated EMT/medic/nurse/doctor school and I know everything. Usually the person making such an assertion is demonstrating that they actually are the most ignorant person in the room, but they often get their way, because they are the most insistent/intimidating/arrogant person in the room. Except when I am there. 😉

Then the follow up to Ambulance Driver’s comment.

Yeah I gotta fess up. I worked very hard on that first post to A) piss you off a little because I enjoy your follow up to BS and trolls and B) because I think if shows what many medics still really think.

Nothing to apologize for. We need to have good debates about what is best for patients. We currently have to rely mostly on expert opinion, because the research is too often inadequate to answer the question of what is best for the patient or what are the right requirements for intubation.

I still believe current research is biased and I would love to see a wide scale study in direct favor of the patient with all aspects of the pros/cons of intubation.

Research will always have problems, but it is still the best method we have of answering the questions of what is best for the patient. I would like to see that research, too.

I see turmoil in our future. We as medics are expected to learn more every year and that makes it harder to be proficient in the skills we already perform. We do this all without getting a pay raise, my cost of living increase alone was frozen for another year.

That is a problem. We do need to have medics dedicated to EMS. Not cross-trained as anything else. There is too much that we need to do to maintain proficiency to have paramedic be something done in addition to another job that people think is interchangeable, or related, or a way of saving money. These are generally not people you would want providing care for any real patient, yet they make decisions about how that care is delivered. Politicians are the enemies of EMS.

Tom Peters writes about this problem, but not as an EMS topic. He asks the question, Do you suffer from too much talent?

In EMS, we seem to act as if we have such talented medics, that cross-training in another field is not going to interfere with their ability to provide excellent care.

Maybe we just don’t care about excellent care – until we are the patients (or our families). Isn’t a 52% intubation success rate, even if partially inaccurate (12% esophageal intubations is also ridiculous) worse than bad patient care?

Do we suffer from too much talent?

Hope no hard feelings, RM, great follow-up 🙂

I do not take criticism personally, so there would be no reason for hard feelings. I like it when you make me think.

Thank you.

Other blog posts commenting on this, by others and by me, in order of posting, have been –

The Airway Continuum at EMS1.com by Kelly Grayson, AKA Ambulance Driver. 11/06/07

Teaching Airway: EMS Educast Episode 33 at EMS EduCast. 10/02/09

Teaching Airway – Part I at Rogue Medic. 10/10/09

Teaching Airway – Part I at Paramedicine 101. 10/10/09

Teaching Airway – Part I – comment from Anonymous at Rogue Medic. 10/11/09

Teaching Airway – Part I – comment from Anonymous at Paramedicine 101. 10/11/09

Rogue Medic’s Comment Section… at A Day In The Life Of An Ambulance Driver. 10/11/09

Paramedics and intubation at 9-Echo-1. 10/12/09

Attention all Companies at The Happy Medic. 10/12/09

Snapshot from the Paramedic Battlefield at Firegeezer. 10/12/09

Have You Seen This? at The Fire Critic. 10/12/09

Comment On A Comment at Too Old To Work, Too Young To Retire. 10/13/09

Airways and ET tubes… at 9-Echo-1. 10/14/09

EMS as a Profession? at The Fire Critic. 10/20/09

Airway comments by Rachel at Rogue Medic. 10/21/09

Airway comments by Rachel at Paramedicine 101. 10/21/09