Intercostal Catheter Insertion: Are We Really Doing Well?

ANZ J Surg. 2012 Jun;82(6):392-4. doi: 10.1111/j.1445-2197.2012.06093.x. Epub 2012 May 9.


Introduction: Intercostal catheters (ICC) are the standard management of chest trauma, but are associated with complications in up to 30%. The aim of this study was to evaluate errors in technique during ICC insertion to characterize the potential benefit of improved training programmes.

Methods: Prospective audit of all ICC in trauma patients at a level 1 trauma centre for over 12 months. Exclusions were pigtail catheters and ICC inserted during thoracic surgery. Errors were identified from patient examination and chest imaging; they were defined as insertional, positional, incorrect size (<28 French) and lack of antibiotic prophylaxis. Ongoing complications unrelated to an error in technique, for example blocked tube, were not analysed.

Results: Fifty-seven patients received a total of 94 ICC during the study period. Patients were predominantly male (77%), mean age of 40 ± 20 years, mean injury severity score 27 ± 13, mean abbreviated injury scale chest 3.8 ± 0.72. 86% were blunt trauma and 14% penetrating chest injuries. Thirty-six errors in technique occurred in 33 ICC insertions (38%). The most common errors were absence of prophylactic antibiotics (13%), ICC too far out (9%), kinked (6%) and wrong-sized ICC (5%). Emergency had a significantly greater frequency of errors than other specialties (67%, relative risk 2.11, P= 0.002). The majority of ICC were inserted by registrars, and registrars made a greater number of errors than fellows or consultants (relative risk 2.00, P= 0.02).

Discussion: This study identified a large number of preventable errors for ICC insertion in trauma patients. Standardized institutional credentialing systems may be required to ensure adequate proficiency of trainees performing this procedure.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Chest Tubes*
  • Female
  • Guideline Adherence / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Injury Severity Score
  • Male
  • Medical Audit
  • Medical Errors / statistics & numerical data*
  • Middle Aged
  • New South Wales
  • Pleural Diseases / etiology
  • Pleural Diseases / surgery
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Prospective Studies
  • Thoracic Injuries / complications
  • Thoracic Injuries / surgery*
  • Thoracostomy / instrumentation
  • Thoracostomy / standards*
  • Trauma Centers / standards*
  • Trauma Centers / statistics & numerical data