Objective: To determine the insertional and positional complications encountered by the placement of intercostal chest drains (ICDs) for trauma and whether further training is warranted in operators inserting intercostal chest drains outside level 1 trauma unit settings.
Methods: Over a period of 3 months, all patients with or without an ICD in situ in the front room trauma bay of Tygerberg Hospital were included in the study. Patients admitted directly via the trauma resuscitation unit were excluded. No long-term infective complications were included. A self-reporting system recorded complications, and additional data were obtained by searching the department's records and monthly statistics.
Results: A total of 3989 patients with trauma injuries were seen in the front room trauma bay during the study period; 273 (6.8%) patients with an ICD in situ or requiring an ICD were assessed in the trauma unit and admitted to the chest drain ward; 24 patients were identified with 26 complications relating to the insertion and positioning of the ICD; 22 (92%) of these had been referred with an ICD in situ. An overall complication rate of 9.5% was seen. Insertional complications numbered 7 (27%), with 19 (73%) positional complications. The most common errors were insertion at the incorrect anatomical site, and extrathoracic and too shallow placement (side portal of the drain lying outside the chest cavity).
Conclusion: Operators at the referral hospitals have received insufficient training in the technique for insertion of ICDs for chest trauma and would benefit from more structured instruction and closer supervision of ICD insertion.