INTRODUCTION: Crowding of the emergency departments is an increasing problem. Many patients with an exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are often treated in the emergency departments for a very short period before discharged to their homes. It is possible that this treatment could take place in the patients' homes with sufficient diagnostics supporting the treatment. In an effort to keep the diagnostics and treatment of some of these patients in their homes and thus to reduce the patient load at the emergency departments, we implemented a prehospital treat-and-release strategy based on ultrasonography and blood testing performed by emergency medical technicians (EMT) or paramedics (PM) in patients with acute exacerbation of COPD.
METHOD: EMTs and PMs were enrolled in a six-hour educational program covering ultrasonography of the lungs and point of care blood tests. During the seasonal peak of COPD exacerbations (October 2018 - May 2019) all patients who were treated by the ambulance crews for respiratory insufficiency were screened in the ambulances. If the patient had uncomplicated COPD not requiring immediate transport to the hospital, ultrasonographic examination of the lungs, measurements of C-reactive protein and venous blood gases analyses were performed. The response to the initial treatment and the results obtained were discussed via telemedical consultation with a prehospital anaesthesiologist who then decided to either release the patient at the scene or to have the patient transported to the hospital. The primary outcome was strategy feasibility.
RESULTS: We included 100 EMTs and PMs in the study. During the study period, 771 patients with respiratory insufficiency were screened. Uncomplicated COPD was rare as only 41patients were treated according to the treat-and-release strategy. Twenty of these patients (49%) were released at the scene. In further ten patients, technical problems were encountered hindering release at the scene.
CONCLUSION: In a few selected patients with suspected acute exacerbations of COPD, it was technically and organisationally feasible for EMTs and PMs to perform prehospital POCT-ultrasound and laboratory testing and release the patients following treatment. None of the patients released at the scene requested a secondary ambulance within the first 48 h following the intervention.