The standardization debate: A conflation trap in critical care electroencephalography

Seizure. 2015 Jan;24:52-8. doi: 10.1016/j.seizure.2014.09.017. Epub 2014 Oct 16.


Purpose: Persistent uncertainty over the clinical significance of various pathological continuous electroencephalography (cEEG) findings in the intensive care unit (ICU) has prompted efforts to standardize ICU cEEG terminology and an ensuing debate. We set out to understand the reasons for, and a satisfactory resolution to, this debate.

Method: We review the positions for and against standardization, and examine their deeper philosophical basis.

Results: We find that the positions for and against standardization are not fundamentally irreconcilable. Rather, both positions stem from conflating the three cardinal steps in the classic approach to EEG, which we term "description", "interpretation", and "prescription". Using real-world examples we show how this conflation yields muddled clinical reasoning and unproductive debate among electroencephalographers that is translated into confusion among treating clinicians. We propose a middle way that judiciously uses both standardized terminology and clinical reasoning to disentangle these critical steps and apply them in proper sequence.

Conclusion: The systematic approach to ICU cEEG findings presented herein not only resolves the standardization debate but also clarifies clinical reasoning by helping electroencephalographers assign appropriate weights to cEEG findings in the face of uncertainty.

Keywords: Critical care; Electroencephalography; Intensive care; Long-term monitoring; Nomenclature; Standardization.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Critical Care / methods*
  • Critical Care / standards*
  • Electroencephalography / standards*
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units / standards*
  • Monitoring, Physiologic*