Mainstem Intubation In Pediatric Patients: How Common?

Mainstem intubation in the pediatric patient is a common problem. There are two major issues: the trachea is shorter than in an adult, and the angles are different making intubation of the right mainstem bronchus much easier. Frequently, the intubator watches the balloon slide between the cords, then pushes the tube in “just a little further.”

Unfortunately, that “little bit” can vary significantly. An abstract from my hospital was presented at the Pediatric Trauma Society in 2016. Subjectively, we noticed that mainstem intubation was occurring with some regularity in our pediatric trauma patients.  It seemed as though insufficient attention was being paid to the depth of the tube.

A major difference between adult and pediatric intubations is that in adults, optimal tube depth is locked into a relatively narrow range. In children, the depth varies considerably based upon child age and size. And small variances in depth can have major implications for tube position.

We decided to implement a PI project to change our intubation policy. In order to focus the entire team on tube depth, a color coded card was attached to each size of endotracheal tube. This card listed the optimal depth for insertion. Once the provider inserted the tube, the final depth was called out for the team and documentation scribe to hear. This had the added advantage of allowing multiple team members confirm the appropriateness of tube depth. A chest x-ray was immediately obtained to confirm position.

We retrospectively reviewed our seven year experience with pediatric intubations, from 2009-2015. Here are the factoids:

  • Nearly 2,000 pediatric trauma patients were admitted during the study period
  • 94 patients (5%) required intubation in the ED
  • Prior to implementation of the new protocol, 6 of 68 patients (8.8%) had confirmed right mainstem intubation 
  • After the change, only one further mainstem intubation occurred in 26 procedures (3.8%)

Bottom line: Unfortunately, this series is too small to determine statistical significance. There is a definite trend toward fewer mainstem intubations. It appears that by calling more attention to the proper tube depth, fewer deep placements occur. Our numbers  have remained low since this change.

Are there other methods to ensure proper ET tube placement in small patients? In my next post, I’ll review a paper that compares three additional different techniques that can be used.

Reference: Eliminating the Preventable Occurrence of Right Mainstem Intubation in the Pediatric Trauma Patient: A Quality Performance Improvement (PI) Initiative. Pediatric Trauma Society Poster Abstract #1, 2016.

Source: The Trauma Professionals’s Blog