Avoid the Goose! Paramedic Identification of Esophageal Intubation by Ultrasound

Prehosp Disaster Med. 2018 Aug;33(4):406-410. doi: 10.1017/S1049023X18000651.


Objectives: Rapid identification of esophageal intubations is critical to avoid patient morbidity and mortality. Continuous waveform capnography remains the gold standard for endotracheal tube (ETT) confirmation, but it has limitations. Point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) may be a useful alternative for confirming ETT placement. The objective of this study was to determine the accuracy of paramedic-performed POCUS identification of esophageal intubations with and without ETT manipulation.

Methods: A prospective, observational study using a cadaver model was conducted. Local paramedics were recruited as subjects and each completed a survey of their demographics, employment history, intubation experience, and prior POCUS training. Subjects participated in a didactic session in which they learned POCUS identification of ETT location. During each study session, investigators randomly placed an ETT in either the trachea or esophagus of four cadavers, confirmed with direct laryngoscopy. Subjects then attempted to determine position using POCUS both without and with manipulation of the ETT. Manipulation of the tube was performed by twisting the tube. Descriptive statistics and logistic regression were used to assess the results and the effects of previous paramedic experience.

Results: During 12 study sessions, from March 2014 through December 2015, 57 subjects participated, evaluating a total of 228 intubations: 113 tracheal and 115 esophageal. Subjects were 84.0% male, mean age of 39 years (range: 22 - 62 years), with median experience of seven years (range: 0.6 - 39 years). Paramedics correctly identified ETT location in 158 (69.3%) cases without and 194 (85.1%) with ETT manipulation. The sensitivity and specificity of identifying esophageal location without ETT manipulation increased from 52.2% (95% confidence interval [CI], 43.0-61.0) and 86.7% (95% CI, 81.0-93.0) to 87.0% (95% CI, 81.0-93.0) and 83.2% (95% CI, 0.76-0.90) after manipulation (P<.0001), without affecting specificity (P=.45). Subjects correctly identified 41 previously incorrectly identified esophageal intubations. Paramedic experience, previous intubations, and POCUS experience did not correlate with ability to identify tube location.

Conclusion: Paramedics can accurately identify esophageal intubations with POCUS, and manipulation improves identification. Further studies of paramedic use of dynamic POCUS to identify inadvertent esophageal intubations are needed. LemaPC, O'BrienM, WilsonJ, St. JamesE, LindstromH, DeAngelisJ, CaldwellJ, MayP, ClemencyB. Avoid the goose! Paramedic identification of esophageal intubation by ultrasound. Prehosp Disaster Med. 2018;33(4):406-410.

Keywords: ACLS Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support; ED emergency department; ETT endotracheal tube; FAST focused assessment with sonography for trauma; NPV negative predictive value; OR operating room; POCUS point-of-care ultrasound; PPV positive predictive value; US ultrasound; emergency ultrasound; endotracheal tube; esophageal intubation; paramedic; prehospital.

Publication types

  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Airway Obstruction / diagnostic imaging*
  • Allied Health Personnel / education*
  • Cadaver
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intubation, Intratracheal*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Point-of-Care Systems*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Ultrasonography
  • Young Adult