Background: Fiberoptic bronchoscopy has been recommended to verify the position of double-lumen tubes (DLT), but this remains controversial. The authors studied the role of bronchoscopy for placing and monitoring right- and left-sided DLTs after blind intubation and after positioning the patient.
Methods: Two hundred patients having thoracic surgery requiring DLT insertion were prospectively studied. "Blind" tracheal intubations were done with 163 left-sided and 37 right-sided disposable polyvinyl chloride Robertshaw tubes. Bronchoscopy was performed by a different anesthesiologist after intubation and conventional clinical verification of correct placement and after patient positioning for thoracotomy. A DLT was considered malpositioned when it had to be moved >0.5 cm to correct its position. Critical malpositions were those that might have affected patient safety or influenced the surgical procedure if left uncorrected.
Results: After "blind" DLT intubation, clinical evidence of malpositioning was found in 28 patients. This was confirmed by fiberoptic assessment. In 172 patients in whom placement was judged correct by clinical assessment, malpositioning was detected by bronchoscopy in 79 cases, 25 of which were critical. After patient positioning, DLTs were found to be displaced in 93 patients, 48 of which were critical. Right-sided DLTs were significantly more likely to be malpositioned than were left-sided DLTs. Two complications were related to unsatisfactory lung separation in the 200 patients studied.
Conclusions: After blind intubation and patient positioning, more than one third of DLTs required repositioning. Routine bronchoscopy is therefore recommended after intubation and after patient positioning.