Prehospital cricothyrotomies in a helicopter emergency medical service: Analysis of 19,382 dispatches

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Background: Creating a patent airway by cricothyrotomy is the ultimate maneuver to allow oxygenation (and ventilation) of the patient. Given the rarity of airway management catastrophes necessitating cricothyrotomy, sufficiently sized prospective randomized trials are difficult to perform. Our Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) documents all cases electronically, allowing a retrospective analysis of a larger database for all cases of prehospital cricothyrotomy. Methods: We analyzed all 19,382 dispatches of our HEMS 'Lifeliner 1', since set-up of a searchable digital database. This HEMS operates 24/7, covering ~ 4.5 million inhabitants of The Netherlands. The potential cases were searched and cross-checked in two independent databases. Results: We recorded n = 18 cases of prehospital cricothyrotomy. In all 18 cases, less invasive airway techniques, e.g., supraglottic devices, were attempted before cricothyrotomy. With exception of 2 cases, at least one attempt of orotracheal intubation had been performed before cricothyrotomy. Out of the 18 cases, 4 were performed by puncture-based technique (Melker), the remaining 14 cases by surgical technique. Indications for cricothyrotomy were diverse, dividable into 9 trauma cases and 9 medical cases. The procedure was successful in all but one case (17/18, i.e., 94%; with a 95% confidence interval of 72.7-99.9%). Outcome was such that 6/18 patients arrived at the hospital alive. Long term outcome was poor, with only 2/18 patients discharged from hospital alive. Conclusions: Cricothyrotomy remains, although rare, a regularly occurring requirement in (H)EMS. Our finding of a convincingly high success rate of 94% in trained hands encourages training and a timely performance of cricothyrotomy.
Original languageEnglish
Article number12
JournalBMC emergency medicine
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jan 2019


  • Airway
  • Coniotomy
  • Cricothyrotomy
  • EMS
  • Emergency
  • HEMS
  • Prehospital
  • Surgical

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