Objective: To evaluate the effectiveness and potential complications of simple thoracostomy, as first described by Deakin, as a method for prehospital treatment of traumatic pneumothorax.
Methods: Prospective observational study of all severe trauma patients rescued by our Regional Helicopter Emergency Medical Service and treated with on-scene simple thoracostomy, over a period of 25 months, from June 1, 2002 to June 30, 2004.
Results: Fifty-five consecutive severely injured patients with suspected pneumothorax and an average Revised Trauma Score of 9.6+/-2.7 underwent field simple thoracostomy. Oxygen saturation significantly improved after the procedure (from 86.4+/-10.2% to 98.5%+/-4.7%, P<0.05). No difference exists in the severity of thoracic lesions between patients with systolic arterial pressure and oxygen saturation below and above or equal to 90. A pneumothorax or a haemopneumothorax was found in 91.5% of the cases and a haemothorax in 5.1%. No cases of major bleeding, lung laceration or pleural infection were recorded. No cases of recurrent tension pneumothorax were observed. Forty (72.7%) patients survived to hospital discharge.
Conclusions: Prehospital treatment of traumatic pneumothorax by simple thoracostomy without chest tube insertion is a safe and effective technique.