Acute airway management in the emergency department by non-anesthesiologists

Can J Anaesth. 2004 Feb;51(2):174-80. doi: 10.1007/BF03018780.


Purpose: The responsibility of acute airway management often falls into the hands of non-anesthesiologists. Emergency physicians now routinely use neuromuscular blockade to facilitate intubation. The literature in support of this practice has almost exclusively been published in emergency medicine (EM) journals. This body of literature is presented and issues of educational support are discussed.

Source: A narrative review of the literature on the practice of airway management by non-anesthesiologists.

Principal findings: A significant proportion of acute airway management occurring outside the operating room is being performed by non-anesthesiologists. Rapid sequence intubation (RSI) is recognized as a core procedure within the domain of EM. RSI is being performed routinely by emergency physicians practicing in larger centres. Anesthesiologist support for the practice of RSI by non-anesthesiologists has been weak. Formal educational support outside of postgraduate training in the form of dedicated programs for advanced airway management are now being offered. The majority of the literature on the use of RSI by non-anesthesiologists represents retrospective case series, observational studies and registry data published in EM journals. The reported success rates for RSI performed by non-anesthesiologists is high. Complication rates are significant, however reporting consistency has been poor.

Conclusions: The role of non-anesthesiologists in acute airway management is significant. Despite shortcomings in methodology, current evidence and practice supports the use of RSI by trained emergency physicians. Constructive collaborative efforts between anesthesiology and EM need to occur to ensure that educational needs are met and that competent airway management is provided.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anesthesiology / education*
  • Canada
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Intubation, Intratracheal / adverse effects
  • Intubation, Intratracheal / methods*
  • Intubation, Intratracheal / statistics & numerical data
  • Laryngeal Masks / statistics & numerical data
  • Neuromuscular Blockade / methods
  • United States