Conference Coverage

One in five chest tube placements/removals goes awry



Chest tube placement and removal comes with a high error rate, with about one in five procedures going wrong, according to a prospective observational study conducted at 14 adult trauma centers.

“The sad part is, I don’t know if it was surprisingly high, but I’m glad somebody has taken the time to document it,” said Robert Sawyer, MD, professor of surgery at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Mich., who comoderated the session at the annual clinical congress of the American College of Surgeons, where the study was presented.

The researchers examined error rates in both insertions and removals, and compared some of the practices and characteristics of trauma centers with unusually good or poor records. The work could begin to inform quality improvement initiatives. “That’s very parallel to where we were 20 or 25 years ago with central venous catheters. We used to put them in and thought it was never a problem, and then we started taking a close look at it and found out, yeah, there was a problem. We systematically made our procedures more consistent and had better outcomes. I think chest tubes is going to be ripe for that,” Dr. Sawyer said in an interview.

“In some ways we have been lying to ourselves. We acknowledge that trainees have a high rate of complications in chest tube insertion and removal, but we haven’t fixed it as a systematic problem. We’re behind in our work to reduce complications for this bedside procedure,” echoed the session’s other comoderator, Tam Pham, MD, professor of surgery at the University of Washington, Seattle, in an interview.

The researchers defined chest tube errors as anything that resulted in a need to manipulate, replace, or revise an existing tube; a worsening of the condition that the tube was intended to address; or complications that resulted in additional length of stay or interventions. A total of 381 chest tubes were placed in 273 patients over a 3-month period, about 55% by residents and about 28% by trauma attending physicians. Around 80% were traditional chest tubes, and most of the rest were Pigtail, with a very small fraction of Trocar chest tubes, according to a pie chart displayed by Michaela West, MD, a trauma surgeon at North Memorial Health, Robbinsdale, Minn., who presented the research.


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