Journal Article
Systematic Review
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A systematic review and meta-analysis comparing mortality in pre-hospital tracheal intubation to emergency department intubation in trauma patients.

BACKGROUND: Pre-hospital endotracheal intubation is frequently used for trauma patients in many emergency medical systems. Despite a wide range of publications in the field, it is debated whether the intervention is associated with a favourable outcome, when compared to more conservative airway measures.

METHODS: A systematic literature search was conducted to identify interventional and observational studies where the mortality rates of adult trauma patients undergoing pre-hospital endotracheal intubation were compared to those undergoing emergency department intubation.

RESULTS: Twenty-one studies examining 35,838 patients were included. The median mortality rate in patients undergoing pre-hospital intubation was 48% (range 8-94%), compared to 29% (range 6-67%) in patients undergoing intubation in the emergency department. Odds ratios were in favour of emergency department intubation both in crude and adjusted mortality, with 2.56 (95% CI: 2.06, 3.18) and 2.59 (95% CI: 1.97, 3.39), respectively. The overall quality of evidence is very low. Twelve of the twenty-one studies found a significantly higher mortality rate after pre-hospital intubation, seven found no significant differences, one found a positive effect, and for one study an analysis of the mortality rate was beyond the scope of the article.

CONCLUSIONS: The rationale for wide and unspecific indications for pre-hospital intubation seems to lack support in the literature, despite several publications involving a relatively large number of patients. Pre-hospital intubation is a complex intervention where guidelines and research findings should be approached cautiously. The association between pre-hospital intubation and a higher mortality rate does not necessarily contradict the importance of the intervention, but it does call for a thorough investigation by clinicians and researchers into possible causes for this finding.

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