Emergency department versus operating room intubation of patients undergoing immediate hemorrhage control surgery

J Trauma Acute Care Surg. 2023 Jul 1;95(1):69-77. doi: 10.1097/TA.0000000000003907. Epub 2023 Feb 28.


Background: Hemorrhage control surgery is an essential trauma center function. Airway management of the unstable bleeding patient in the emergency department (ED) presents a challenge. Premature intubation in the ED can exacerbate shock and precipitate extremis. We hypothesized that ED versus operating room intubation of patients requiring urgent hemorrhage control surgery is associated with adverse outcomes at the patient and hospital-levels.

Methods: Patients who underwent hemorrhage control within 60 minutes of arrival at level 1 or 2 trauma centers were identified (National Trauma Data Bank 2017-2019). To minimize confounding, patients dead on arrival, undergoing ED thoracotomy, or with clinical indications for intubation (severe head/neck/face injury or Glasgow Coma Scale score of ≤8) were excluded. Two analytic approaches were used. First, hierarchical logistic regression measured the risk-adjusted association between ED intubation and mortality. Secondary outcomes included ED dwell time, units of blood transfused, and major complications (cardiac arrest, acute respiratory distress syndrome, acute kidney injury, sepsis). Second, a hospital-level analysis determined whether hospital tendency ED intubation was associated with adverse outcomes.

Results: We identified 9,667 patients who underwent hemorrhage control surgery at 253 trauma centers. Patients were predominantly young men (median age, 33 years) who suffered penetrating injuries (71%). The median initial Glasgow Coma Scale and systolic blood pressure were 15 and 108 mm Hg, respectively. One in five (20%) of patients underwent ED intubation. After risk-adjustment, ED intubation was associated with significantly increased odds of mortality, longer ED dwell time, greater blood transfusion, and major complications. Hospital-level analysis identified significant variation in use of ED intubation between hospitals not explained by patient case mix. After risk adjustment, patients treated at hospitals with high tendency for ED intubation (compared with those with low tendency) were significantly more likely to suffer in-hospital cardiac arrest (6% vs. 4%; adjusted odds ratio, 1.46; 95% confidence interval, 1.04-2.03).

Conclusion: Emergency department intubation of patients who require urgent hemorrhage control surgery is associated with adverse outcomes. Significant variation in ED intubation exists between trauma centers not explained by patient characteristics. Where feasible, intubation should be deferred in favor of rapid resuscitation and transport to the operating room.

Level of evidence: Therapeutic/Care Management; Level III.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Hemorrhage* / etiology
  • Hemorrhage* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Intubation, Intratracheal / adverse effects
  • Male
  • Operating Rooms*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Trauma Centers