Sonogram of Safety: Ultrasound Outperforms the Fifth Intercostal Space Landmark for Tube Thoracostomy Site Selection

J Clin Ultrasound. 2020 Jul;48(6):303-306. doi: 10.1002/jcu.22851. Epub 2020 Apr 25.


Purpose: Identification of tube thoracostomy insertion location is currently performed using a blind, landmark based approach at either the fifth intercostal space (ICS) or inframammary crease in the midaxillary line. A significant percentage of thoracostomies at this site result in complications. This pilot study aimed to assess whether bedside ultrasound could aid in identifying safer tube thoracostomy insertion sites in emergency department patients.

Methods: Fifty emergency department patients were enrolled in this study. Right and left hemidiaphragms were evaluated with ultrasound at the fifth ICS. Observations were made on if the diaphragm was below, above, or crossed the fifth ICS during an entire respiratory cycle.

Results: Eighty-one (95% confidence interval 72-82) of the diaphragms were below, 13 (95% confidence interval 8-21) of the diaphragms were at, and 6 (95% confidence interval 3-12) of the diaphragms were above the location marked using traditional landmark techniques. On the right and left hemidiaphragms, 20% (95% confidence interval 19.9%-20.1%) and 18% (95% confidence interval 17.9%-18.1%) of diaphragms were above or crossing the fifth ICS, respectively CONCLUSIONS: Ultrasound identified a significant number of potential chest tube insertion sites at the fifth ICS that would result in subdiaphragmatic insertion or diaphragmatic injury. Based on this data ultrasound can be used to identify safer insertion sites and reduce thoracostomy complications.

Keywords: chest; emergency medicine; procedures; tube thoracostomy; ultrasound.