Need for emergency surgical airway reduced by a comprehensive difficult airway program

Lauren C. Berkow, Robert S. Greenberg, Kristin H. Kan, Elizabeth Colantuoni, Lynette J. Mark, Paul W. Flint, Marco Corridore, Nasir Bhatti, Eugenie S. Heitmiller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

97 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Inability to intubate and ventilate patients with respiratory failure is associated with significant morbidity and mortality. A patient is considered to have a difficult airway if an anesthesiologist or other health care provider experienced in airway management is unable to ventilate the patient's lungs using bag-mask ventilation and/or is unable to intubate the trachea using direct laryngoscopy. METHODS: We performed a retrospective review of a departmental database to determine whether a comprehensive program to manage difficult airways was associated with a reduced need to secure the airway surgically via cricothyrotomy or tracheostomy. The annual number of unplanned, emergency surgical airway procedures for inability to intubate and ventilate reported for the 4 yr before the program (January 1992 through December 1995) was compared with the annual number reported for the 11 yr after the program was initiated (January 1996 through December 2006). RESULTS: The number of emergency surgical airways decreased from 6.5 ± 0.5 per year for 4 yr before program initiation to 2.2 ± 0.89 per year for the 11-yr period after program initiation (P < 0.0001). During the 4-yr period from January 1992 through December 1995, 26 surgical airways were reported, whereas only 24 surgical airways were performed in the subsequent 11-yr period (January 1996 through December 2006). CONCLUSIONS: A comprehensive difficult airway program was associated with a reduction in the number of emergency surgical airway procedures performed for the inability of an anesthesiologist to intubate and ventilate, a reduction that was sustained over an 11-yr period. This decrease occurred despite an increase in the number of patients reported to have a difficult airway and an overall increase in the total number of patients receiving anesthesia per year.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1860-1869
Number of pages10
JournalAnesthesia and analgesia
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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