How To Present Your Case In The ED

how to present your case in the ED

As a medical student, presenting history and physical exam of a patient to the attending can be nerve-wracking. In the ED, physicians typically prefer an even more succinct presentation than usual, ideally less than 3 min. Case presentations are a great opportunity to show that you understand what the pertinent positives and negatives for the patient’s presenting complaint are and that you can summarize a large amount of information collected in an organized manner. Case presentations are your opportunity to impress your preceptor, so it is an important skill to master. It will also be the mode of communicating with the rest of the healthcare team throughout your career in medicine. Better communication = better patient care!

Ask

Before we get started, it is important to recognize that every physician may have their own preference for how they would like case presentations organized. Some prefer more details, and some prefer a specific order. Therefore, it is always a smart idea to ask your preceptor at the beginning of your ED shift if they have a preference for how they like cases to be presented.

The One Liner

State the patient’s name, age, sex, chief complaint, and any pertinent medical history. E.g., John Doe is a 16-year-old male with a history of eczema presenting with wheezing.

History of Presenting Illness (HPI)

include the details of the chief complaint, as well as any pertinent positives and negatives.
  1. Why did this patient present to the ED today?
  2. What are the details of the chief complaint? I.e. Onset, Duration, Progression, Alleviating and Aggravating Factors, Causes/Triggers, Changes with Position, etc.
    • For pain, it is helpful to describe OPQRSTU – Onset, Position, Quality, Radiation, Severity, Temporal, déjà vU (has it ever happened before).
  3. Any associated symptoms
  4. Any risk factors?
    • Any relevant past medical history (e.g. chronic conditions, hospitalizations, surgeries, etc.), family history, or social history (e.g. habits, living situation, alcohol consumption, smoking history, illicit drug usage)?

Review of Systems

Describe any other symptoms here.

  • Note that some ED physicians may not want a review of systems included in the oral case presentation if it does not include any additional pertinent information, but a review of systems should always be included in your written patient note. 

Medications

Allergies

if the patient states that they do not have any allergies, this can be recorded and/or stated as “NKDA” which stands for No Known Drug Allergies.

Physical Exam Findings

  1. Start off by stating the most updated set of vitals.
  2. Next, state the patient’s general appearance as this helps decide between sick vs. not sick. E.g., patient is alert, oriented, and in no apparent respiratory distress.
  3. Then, delve into the pertinent details of the physical exam. E.g. for a cardiac complaint, it is important to include the specific details of the cardiovascular exam and respiratory exam, but not of all the other systems.
  4. A brief overview of the other systems that a physical exam was conducted for can be useful, but be as concise as possible, and organize information in a head-to-toe fashion if needed. If there were no other findings, you can state that the remainder of the physical exam was unremarkable. 

Summary

In 2-3 sentences, gather the main findings of your history and physical exam. Be sure to restate the initial one-liner sentence, other pertinent positives and negatives, and any important test results so far.

Impression/Assessment

State your differential diagnosis for each problem.

  • Start off by stating what you think the most likely diagnosis is, and why you think it is the most likely.
  • Then, state any other likely diagnoses you are suspecting.
  • Lastly, state the deadly diagnoses that could be possible with this patient’s chief complaint. In some cases, this can be the first thing you may want to say. It is important to specify why you do or do not feel confident in ruling these out. E.g., in a baby presenting with fever of unknown origin, it is important to state why you are not (or are) suspecting meningitis, encephalitis, malignancy, or autoimmune conditions.
  • Many medical students will shy away from stating their impression of what could be going on in terms of differential diagnosis, but this is an important thing to attempt. Preceptors will appreciate your effort in synthesizing what could be going on and be impressed by it, even if your impression is incorrect. This is often what sets apart students that “meet expectations” vs. students that are considered “outstanding”.

Plan

What do you want to do next?

  • Plan includes anything from the tests you want to order (including repeat vitals, bloodwork, and imaging), immediate treatment (including analgesics and fluids), and referrals you want to make (including consults, admission/discharge plan, and referral to allied health professionals such as social work, speech-language pathology, occupational therapy, and physiotherapy).  
  • Do not forget to take the patient’s social history into account when deciding what to do next.

Congrats – you have now completed your oral case presentation! This is a skill you will continue to develop with practice, so do not worry and keep working at it. It is also a good idea to always ask your preceptor for feedback on your case presentation once it is complete, as that will help you identify your strengths and weaknesses.

References and Further Reading

Cite this article as: Sheza Qayyum, Canada, "How To Present Your Case In The ED," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, December 7, 2020, https://iem-student.org/2020/12/07/how-to-present-your-case-in-the-ed/, date accessed: May 9, 2021

More Blog Posts By Sheza Qayyum

Approach to Acute Cough in Adults

Approach to Acute Cough in Adults

Cough is one of the most common complaints presenting to any emergency physician or primary care practitioner – whether it is the chief complaint or an associated symptom. An acute cough is one that has been present for less than three weeks. In the era of COVID-19, a patient presenting with an acute cough can be alarming and scary. So, now more than ever, it is important to develop a strong diagnostic approach to the acute cough, which is largely a clinical diagnosis.

Differential Diagnosis of Acute Cough

*Indicates the most common causes of acute cough.
Cause Example Symptoms / warning signs
Infectious (viral/bacterial) Upper respiratory tract infection aka common cold* Rhinorrhea, nasal obstruction, sneezing, scratchy/sore throat, malaise, headache, and no signs of consolidation
Acute bronchitis* Recent upper respiratory tract infection, and absence of COPD, and absence of high fever or other systemic signs
Influenza Fever, sore throat, nasal congestion, myalgia, headache, and no signs of consolidation
Pneumonia* Fever, tachycardia, tachypnea, consolidation signs on respiratory exam, and mental status change in patients >75y old
Pertussis Whooping cough and cough-emesis
COVID-19 Fever, non-productive cough, fatigue, dyspnea, and/or other less common symptoms such as sore throat, diarrhea, headache, skin rash, and anosmia
Post-nasal drip aka upper airway cough syndrome Post-nasal drainage sensation, need to clear throat, and rhinorrhea

Allergic rhinitis aka hay fever Itching and watering of eyes, rhinorrhea, pruritis
Exacerbation of a pre-existing chronic disease Exacerbation of Asthma   History of episodic wheezing, non-productive cough, dyspnea, reversible air-flow obstruction, allergen exposure or triggered by exercise
Exacerbation of COPD Smoking history, dyspnea, signs of obstruction on respiratory exam i.e. decreased breath sounds, and irreversible air-flow obstruction
Exacerbation of CHF Dyspnea, orthopnea, peripheral edema, gallop rhythm on cardiac exam, and elevated JVP
Drug-induced ACE inhibitor use Non-productive cough, tickling or scratchy sensation in throat typically arising within 1 week of starting medication
Gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD)

 

Heartburn, regurgitation, dysphagia, and cough is more prominent at night
Other pulmonary causes Pulmonary embolism Clinical signs and symptoms of DVT, dyspnea, tachypnea, tachycardia, pleuritic chest pain, immobilization for 3 or more days, surgery in the past 4 weeks, history of DVT/PE, hemoptysis, and malignancy with active treatment in the past 6 months
Lung cancer Smoking history, new change in cough, hemoptysis, dyspnea, night sweats, weight loss, and signs of focal obstruction on respiratory exam i.e. decreased breath sounds
Foreign body aspiration Dyspnea, inspiratory stridor, choking, and elevated risk in children
Acute inhalation injury History of exposure to smoke (e.g. in firefighters, thermal burn victims) or chemicals (e.g. chlorine, ammonia)
Bronchiectasis Large volumes of purulent sputum, dyspnea, wheezing, and chest pain
Interstitial lung disease Non-productive cough, dyspnea, fatigue, weight loss
         

Picture the scene: A 23-year-old female presents to the emergency department with a cough that has been ongoing for one week. What are your next steps?

History

  1. Confirm the duration and timing of cough
  2. Nature of cough, i.e. whooping, hemoptysis, and productive vs non-productive?
  3. Presence of the following associated symptoms: fever, dyspnea, sore throat, headache, chest pain, heartburn, rhinorrhea, facial pressure/pain, nasal congestion, or weight loss
  4. History of any chronic lung disease (i.e. asthma, COPD), allergies, CHF, or immunosuppression?
  5. Smoking history?
  6. Medication history, i.e. ACE inhibitor use?

Physical Exam

  1. Vitals
  2. HEENT exam (head, eyes, ears, nose, and throat)
  3. Respiratory exam
  4. Cardiac exam, including JVP

Laboratory Tests

  • Send for COVID-19 swab according to your hospital’s guidelines
  • Order CBC if suspecting infection
  • Order ABG if dyspnea present or life-threatening cause of acute cough suspected
  • Order sputum culture if suspecting bacterial pneumonia
  • Spirometry if need to differentiate between obstructive lung disease (e.g., asthma, COPD) and restrictive lung disease (e.g., interstitial lung disease)

Imaging

  • Consider starting with a Chest X-ray if red flags for serious pathology are present >> dyspnea, hemoptysis, chest pain, weight loss, immunosuppression, significant smoking history, elderly or at risk of aspiration, tachypnea or hypoxemia, abnormal cardiac or respiratory exam, or sepsis.
  • If suspecting foreign body aspiration, need to order bronchoscopy 

Please note that treatment of the conditions that may cause acute cough are not discussed in this blog post, but can be found through medical resources such as those in the references section. Treatment for acute cough often requires treating the underlying cause.

References

  1. Boujaoude ZC, Pratter MR. Clinical approach to acute cough. Lung. 2010;188 Suppl 1(Suppl 1):S41-S46. doi:10.1007/s00408-009-9170-6
  2. Holzinger F, Beck S, Dini L, Stöter C, Heintze C. The diagnosis and treatment of acute cough in adults. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2014;111(20):356-363. doi:10.3238/arztebl.2014.0356
  3. Madison JM, Irwin RS. Cough: A worldwide problem. Otolarynogol Clin North Am. 2010 Feb;43(1):1-13, vii.
  4. Strong Medicine. An Approach to Cough. Published 25 March, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LDMEtNXik-A
  5. University of Toronto. Cough and Dyspnea. 2015. http://thehub.utoronto.ca/family/cough-and-dyspnea/ Accessed 17 August, 2020.

 

Cite this article as: Sheza Qayyum, Canada, "Approach to Acute Cough in Adults," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, November 4, 2020, https://iem-student.org/2020/11/04/approach-to-acute-cough-in-adults/, date accessed: May 9, 2021