Unrecognized misplacement of endotracheal tubes in a mixed urban to rural emergency medical services setting

Acad Emerg Med. 2003 Sep;10(9):961-5. doi: 10.1111/j.1553-2712.2003.tb00652.x.


Objective: To determine the rate of unrecognized endotracheal tube misplacement when performed by emergency medical services (EMS) personnel in a mixed urban and rural setting.

Methods: The authors conducted a prospective, observational analysis of out-of-hospital endotracheal intubations (EIs) performed by EMS personnel serving a mixed urban, suburban, and rural population. From July 1, 1998, to August 30, 1999, emergency physicians assessed and recorded the position of out-of-hospital EIs using auscultation, direct laryngoscopy, infrared CO(2) detectors, esophageal detector devices, and chest x-ray. The state EMS database also was reviewed to determine the number of EIs involving patients transported to the authors' medical center and paramedic assessment of success for these encounters.

Results: A total of 167 out-of-hospital EIs were recorded, of which 136 (81%) were deemed successful by EMS personnel. Observational forms were completed for 109 of the 136 patients who arrived intubated to the emergency department. Of the studied patients, 12% (13 of 109) were found to have misplaced endotracheal tubes. For the patients with unrecognized improperly placed tubes, 9% (10 of 109) were in the esophagus, 2% (2 of 109) were in the right main stem, and 1% (1 of 109) were above the cords. Paramedics serving urban and suburban areas did not perform significantly better (p < 0.05) than intermediate-level providers serving areas that are more rural.

Conclusions: The incidence of unrecognized misplacement of endotracheal tubes by EMS personnel may be higher than most previous studies, making regular EMS evaluation and the out-of-hospital use of devices to confirm placement imperative. The authors were unable to show a difference in misplacement rates based on provider experience or level of training.

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Competence
  • Emergency Medical Services / standards*
  • Humans
  • Intubation, Intratracheal / standards*
  • Medical Errors*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Rural Health Services
  • Urban Health Services