Background: Investigative efforts to improve monitoring during sedation for patients of all ages are part of a national agenda for patient safety. According to the Institute of Medicine, recent technological advances in patient monitoring have contributed to substantially decreased mortality for people receiving general anesthesia in operating room settings. Patient safety has not been similarly targeted for the several million children annually in the United States who receive moderate sedation without endotracheal intubation. Critical event analyses have documented that hypoxemia secondary to depressed respiratory activity is a principal risk factor for near misses and death in this population. Current guidelines for monitoring patient safety during moderate sedation in children call for continuous pulse oximetry and visual assessment, which may not detect alveolar hypoventilation until arterial oxygen desaturation has occurred. Microstream capnography may provide an "early warning system" by generating real-time waveforms of respiratory activity in nonintubated patients.
Objective: The aim of this study was to determine whether intervention based on capnography indications of alveolar hypoventilation reduces the incidence of arterial oxygen desaturation in nonintubated children receiving moderate sedation for nonsurgical procedures.
Participants and methods: We included 163 children undergoing 174 elective gastrointestinal procedures with moderate sedation in a pediatric endoscopy unit in a randomized, controlled trial. All of the patients received routine care, including 2-L supplemental oxygen via nasal cannula. Investigators, patients, and endoscopy staff were blinded to additional capnography monitoring. In the intervention arm, trained independent observers signaled to clinical staff if capnograms indicated alveolar hypoventilation for >15 seconds. In the control arm, observers signaled if capnograms indicated alveolar hypoventilation for >60 seconds. Endoscopy nurses responded to signals in both arms by encouraging patients to breathe deeply, even if routine patient monitoring did not indicate a change in respiratory status.
Outcome measures: Our primary outcome measure was patient arterial oxygen desaturation defined as a pulse oximetry reading of <95% for >5 seconds. Secondary outcome measures included documented assessments of abnormal ventilation, termination of the procedure secondary to concerns for patient safety, as well as other more rare adverse events including need for bag-mask ventilation, sedation reversal, or seizures.
Results: Children randomly assigned to the intervention arm were significantly less likely to experience arterial oxygen desaturation than children in the control arm. Two study patients had documented adverse events, with no procedures terminated for patient safety concerns. Intervention and control patients did not differ in baseline characteristics. Endoscopy staff documented poor ventilation in 3% of all procedures and no apnea. Capnography indicated alveolar hypoventilation during 56% of procedures and apnea during 24%. We found no change in magnitude or statistical significance of the intervention effect when we adjusted the analysis for age, sedative dose, or other covariates.
Conclusions: The results of this controlled effectiveness trial support routine use of microstream capnography to detect alveolar hypoventilation and reduce hypoxemia during procedural sedation in children. In addition, capnography allowed early detection of arterial oxygen desaturation because of alveolar hypoventilation in the presence of supplemental oxygen. The current standard of care for monitoring all patients receiving sedation relies overtly on pulse oximetry, which does not measure ventilation. Most medical societies and regulatory organizations consider moderate sedation to be safe but also acknowledge serious associated risks, including suboptimal ventilation, airway obstruction, apnea, hypoxemia, hypoxia, and cardiopulmonary arrest. The results of this controlled trial suggest that microstream capnography improves the current standard of care for monitoring sedated children by allowing early detection of respiratory compromise, prompting intervention to minimize hypoxemia. Integrating capnography into patient monitoring protocols may ultimately improve the safety of nonintubated patients receiving moderate sedation.