Conference Coverage

California researchers work to update EMS status epilepticus protocols



– Investigators from the University of California, San Francisco, are working with medical directors across the state to update county emergency medical services protocols to ensure patients in status epilepticus get 10 mg IM midazolam in the field, per national treatment guidelines from the American Epilepsy Society.

The work comes in the wake of a recent research letter in JAMA where the UCSF team reported that, across 33 emergency medical services (EMS) in California, only 2 included 10 mg midazolam IM per the guidelines, advice based on randomized, controlled clinical trials that found it to be safe and effective for stopping prehospital seizures in adults.

“Making people aware of the problem [is having] an impact,” said investigator Elan Guterman, MD, a neurology hospitalist and assistant professor of neurology at the university.

In a follow-up review at the annual meeting of the American Epilepsy Society, the team took a deep dive into the situation in Alameda County, just east of San Francisco and including the city of Oakland, as an indicator of what’s been going on across the state.

Patients had to have an EMS record of active seizures, meaning more than two within 5 minutes or a single seizure lasting more than 5 minutes. Alameda ambulance crews, like most, carry intramuscular midazolam because it’s more shelf stable than the two other first-line options, lorazepam and diazepam, and doesn’t require an intravenous line.

Among the 2,494 adults treated for status epilepticus from 2013 to 2018, just 62% received intramuscular midazolam, and only 39% got a dose of 5 mg or more. Not a single patient received the recommended 10-mg IM injection.

In short, “at the time when it’s the most important to act quickly, patients were not receiving the care they needed,” and the problem isn’t likely limited to California, Dr. Guterman said.

When patients did get 5 mg or more, they were less likely to reseize and require additional doses (adjusted odds ratio, 0.59; 95% CI, 0.4-0.86). Also – and counterintuitively given the concern about benzodiazepines and respiratory depression – the team found that higher initial doses of 5 mg or more were actually associated with a lower need for respiratory support, including intubation (OR, 0.81; 95% CI, 0.67-0.99).

It’s possible ambulance crews were erring on the side of caution. People who got midazolam were more likely to have an established diagnosis of epilepsy (68% vs. 62%; P less than .01) and less likely to have been abusing drugs or alcohol (12.5% vs. 16.3%; P less than .01).

But an abundance of caution doesn’t fully explain it; even among people known to have epilepsy, many weren’t treated with midazolam and none at the appropriate dose.

Dr. Guterman thinks the bigger issue is what was reported in the research letter: Local EMS protocols simply haven’t been updated to include current best practices. EMS services might not even be aware of them, which is why she and her colleagues have been meeting with county medical directors.

“The first step is making sure the EMS world is aware of this gap in care, and motivating them to address it,” she said.

Patients in the study were a mean of 53 years old, and just over half were men.

There was no industry funding for the study, and Dr. Guterman didn’t report any relevant disclosures.

SOURCE: Guterman E et al. AES 2019, Abstract 1.394.

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