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An Analysis of Invasive Airway Management in a Suburban Emergency Medical Services System

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 June 2012

Thomas J. Krisanda*
The Department of Emergency Medicine, York Hospital, York, Pa.
David R. Eitel
The Department of Emergency Medicine, York Hospital, York, Pa.
Dean Hess
The Department of Research, York Hospital, York, Pa.
Robert Ormanoski
The Department of Emergency Medicine, Memorial Hospital, York, Pa.
Robert Bernini
The Department of Emergency Medicine, York Hospital, York, Pa.
Nancy Sabulsky
The Department of Research, York Hospital, York, Pa.
Department of Emergency Medicine, York Hospital, 1001 South George Street, York, PA 17405USA



Airway management is the most critical and potentially life-saving intervention performed by emergency medical service (EMS) providers. Invasive airway management often is required in non-cardiac-arrest patients who are combative or otherwise uncooperative. The success of prehospital invasive airway management in this patient population was evaluated.


A retrospective review was undertaken of the records of all such patients requiring endotracheal intubation over a three-year period (1987–1989). The study population included 278 patients enrolled by five advanced life support (ALS) units serving a suburban population of 425,000. Field trip sheets were reviewed for diagnosis, intubation method and success, number of intubation attempts, provider experience, reasons for unsuccessful intubations, and complications.


A total of 394 invasive airway management attempts were performed on 278 patients. The overall successful intubation rate was 75% (41 % orotracheal, 52% nasotracheal, 7% other or unknown). The most common diagnoses were COPD and pulmonary edema (30%) and trauma (24%). Experienced providers were successful on the first attempt in 57% of cases compared to 50% by inexperienced providers (p=.24). Multiple intubation attempts were required in 33% of the patients. There was no statistically significant difference in success rates between the orotracheal and nasotracheal methods (p=.51). The most common reason for unsuccessful intubation was altered level of consciousness. Complications occurred with 7% of successful attempts and in 18% of unsuccessful attempts (p<.001). Forty-six percent of the patients who were not intubated successfully in the field and required intubation in the emergency department (ED) received a neuromuscular blocking agent prior to successful intubation.


Prehospital providers can intubate a high but improvable proportion of non-cardiac-arrested patients by both the orotracheal and nasotracheal routes. The use of pharmacologic adjuncts to facilitate the prehospital intubation of selected, non-cardiac-arrested patients is a promising adjunct that needs further evaluation.

Original Research
Copyright © World Association for Disaster and Emergency Medicine 1992

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