Saturday, September 20, 2008

How should we save more lives from cardiac arrests?

During the second week of September, I was in the Department of Emergency Medicine as part of my clinical rotations. Our university hospital focuses primarily on tertiary emergency medicine, therefore, only the most severe patients are carried into the ER here, such as cardio-pulmonary arrests (CPAs). However, there are exceptions, including cases where the ambulance had been refused by other hospitals, which is unfortunately, not rare at all. Through my four days here, there were some things I felt and thought I would like to share.

In emergency medicine, a CPA patient is defined as one who is unconscious, whose breathing cannot be seen, heard, nor felt, and pulse cannot be felt at the common carotid artery. When this patient is carried in, we basically follow either the Immediate Cardiac Life Support (ICLS) or Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) guidelines and attempt cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR). However, through the days I was there, out of a total of seven CPA patients carried in, none recovered from coma and one reached recirculation but did not regain consciousness. The hospital admits 350 to 400 CPA cases per year, and circulation returns in approximately 50 of them, and total recovery is 10% of that, and that means a single digit number.

When one falls into CPA, which part of the human is most quickly damaged? The brain. Not only is it a damage, but an irreversible one. It is said that if recirculation could not be achieved within five minutes of CPA, chances of full recovery declines to 50%, and after 10 minutes, that plummets to somewhere extremely close to zero. With this considered, in the U.S., some local authorities have begun to adopt the termination of resuscitation (ToR) guideline. It supports termination in the out-of-hospital setting subsequent to failed basic life support (BLS) resuscitation by emergency medical services (EMS) personnel if all of the following are true: (1) no return of spontaneous circulation prior to transport; (2) no shock given prior to transport; and (3) arrest not witnessed by EMS personnel.

Our university hospital concentrates on tertiary emergency medical care, so in other words, patients carried in are those whose chances of full recovery are close to none. But no matter how the situation is, ER personnel will do whatever they can do to resuscitate. In Japan, the average time it takes for an ambulance to reach the site after the 119 call is seven minutes, and it takes 30 minutes from the time of arrival at the site to reach a hospital. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that that is well beyond the 5 minute 50-50 tipping point.

Without doubt, knowing the ICLS or ACLS procedure is a must for all health care providers. However, chances of a CPA patient being saved is extremely low, unless someone at the site knows BLS and carries it out. What I would like to clarify here is that yes, knowing the ICLS or ACLS guidelines and being able to perform it is important, however, teaching people the basics of emergency medicine and making sure they can perform BLS promptly and appropriately is the way to significantly cut the number of lives lost from CPA. The good news is, BLS seminars are becoming more common, and organizations from corporations to governments are placing automated external defibrillators (AEDs) here and there. Now, we also need to focus on how to help people keep up with their BLS skills. :-)