Defining the learning curve of point-of-care ultrasound for confirming endotracheal tube placement by emergency physicians

Crit Ultrasound J. 2015 Dec;7(1):14. doi: 10.1186/s13089-015-0031-7. Epub 2015 Sep 17.


Background: Unrecognized esophageal intubations are associated with significant patient morbidity and mortality. No single confirmatory device has been shown to be 100 % accurate at ruling out esophageal intubations in the emergency department. Recent studies have demonstrated that point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) may be a useful adjunct for confirming endotracheal tube placement; however, the amount of practice required to become proficient at this technique is unclear. The purpose of this study is to determine the amount of practice required by emergency physicians to become proficient at interpreting ultrasound video clips of esophageal and endotracheal intubations.

Methods: Emergency physicians and emergency medicine residents completed a baseline interpretation test followed by a 10 min online tutorial. They then interpreted POCUS clips of esophageal and endotracheal intubations in a randomly selected order. If an incorrect response was provided, the participant completed another practice session with feedback. This process continued until they correctly interpreted ten consecutive ultrasound clips. Descriptive statistics were used to summarize the data.

Results: Of the 87 eligible physicians, 66 (75.9 %) completed the study. The mean score on the baseline test was 42.9 % (SD 32.7 %). After the tutorial, 90.9 % (60/66) of the participants achieved proficiency after one practice attempt and 100 % achieved proficiency after two practice attempts. Six intubation ultrasound clips were misinterpreted, for a total error rate of 0.9 % (6/684). Overall, the participants had a sensitivity of 98.3 % (95 % CI 96.3-99.4 %) and specificity of 100 % (95 % CI 98.9-100 %) for detecting correct tube location. Scans were interpreted within an average of 4 s (SD 2.9 s) of the intubation.

Conclusions: After a brief online tutorial and only two practice attempts, emergency physicians were able to quickly and accurately interpret ultrasound intubation clips of esophageal and endotracheal intubations.

Keywords: Education; Endotracheal intubation; Endotracheal intubation confirmation; Ultrasonography; Upper airway ultrasound.