Background: Prehospital Emergency Medical Services have demonstrated variable success with regards to prehospital airway management in U.S. civilian settings. We attempted to identify the incidence of successful prehospital endotracheal intubations in the modern combat environment.
Methods: This was a prospective, observational study. Data collection occurred at Combat Support Hospitals (CSH) within Operation Iraqi Freedom locations between January 2005 and March 2007. Military trauma physicians systematically examined casualties presenting to the CSH that received advanced prehospital airway management. Correct endotracheal tube (ETT) positioning was verified using an explicit combination of clinical findings and colorimetric end-tidal carbon dioxide detection. The primary outcome was correct placement of the ETTs by combat prehospital providers.
Results: A total of 6,875 combat casualties presented to participating CSHs during the study period, of which there were 293 (4.2%) advanced prehospital airways, of which 282 (97.3%) were trauma patients. Prehospital airway management included: 253 endotracheal intubations (86.6%); 23 supraglottic airways (7.5%), and 17 cricothyrotomies (5.8%). Of the ETTs, upon arrival to the CSH, 242 (95.7%) were determined to be correctly placed. There were 11 incorrectly placed ETTs: 10 were in the right mainstem bronchus, and 1 was found to be dislodged in the hypopharynx. There were no unrecognized battlefield esophageal intubations.
Conclusions: Under combat conditions, the overall rate of correctly placed ETTs performed by military prehospital providers was comparable with that of published U.S. civilian paramedic data.