High Flow Nasal Cannula in the Emergency Department: Avoid Intubations

This study was the first randomized control trial looking at whether high-flow nasal cannula (HFNC) decreases the need for mechanical ventilation in the emergency department. In addition they looked at emergency department and hospital lengths of stays, 90 day mortality, adverse effects in the hospital, and patient experience. I sympathize for the authors of this study because their abstract shows results that my not in fact be true. I state this because, although the study took over two years to complete, they did not collect sufficient patients to demonstrate an effect on their primary outcome which was a need for mechanical ventilation. Unfortunately, they needed 900 based on post-hoc analysis and obtained 322 patients. It would have taken them approximately 6 years to get this trial done. Sigh.

The other caveat to this trial regarding high flow nasal cannula in the emergency department is that the sickest patients were plucked out by the physicians after recruitment because they wanted to proceed with NIV/BiPAP before even trying HFNC. I can’t say I blame them. I treat patients and trials be damned if my clinical judgement is telling me to do something. That’s another reason why I am not in academics nor do I do research. Patients also just weren’t that sick.

If you’re an ER doctor, could you imagine the acuity if you just intubate 7.2% of patients in respiratory failure on standard oxygen therapy? That means these patients weren’t that sick. I mean, the intubation rates for all comers in patients who are on HFNC in subsequent studies flirts with 30%. Please don’t quote me on that number but I believe it to be accurate based on my prior research. I can just imagine how many clinicians would irresponsibly read through the abstract and say, HFNC is not good and just throw away the technology ignoring the benefits. Then you have to fight against their cognitive dissonance to make them change their practice. That’s enough for today on this study. Thanks for checking it out.

Jones PG, Kamona S, Doran O, Sawtell F, Wilsher M. Randomized Controlled Trial of Humidified High-Flow Nasal Oxygen for Acute Respiratory Distress in the Emergency Department: The HOT-ER Study. Respir Care. 2016 Mar;61(3):291-9. doi: 10.4187/respcare.04252. Epub 2015 Nov 17. PMID: 26577199.
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