Suicide – An Emergency Priority of Public Health Care

Suicide An Emergency

A significant number of emergency department visits annually arise as a result of intentional self-harm. Although no accurate description explains what leads to suicide or what comes after, it is a multifaceted phenomenon of public health urgency during a global health crisis. In the United States alone, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death and worldwide claims up to 800,000 lives each year. The international community must unite to come up with solutions to prevent the loss of life, as every single life lost is one too many.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, such an emergency naturally affects both individuals’ health and well-being and the communities in which they live. Unprecedented times unleash various emotional reactions from isolation, grief and trauma to other unhealthy behaviours, noncompliance with public health guidelines and the exacerbation of mental health conditions. While those who’ve been emotionally, sexually or physically abused in the past are more vulnerable to the psychosocial effects of a crisis, supportive interventions such as the Zero Suicide program and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy designed to promote wellness and enhance coping should be implemented [1]. 

In honour of World Suicide Prevention Week, and World Suicide Prevention Day held on the 10th of September every year, it is important to raise attention to the global importance of suicide prevention. Suicide impacts all people and particularly the world’s most marginalized and discriminated groups. It is a huge problem in developed countries and just as serious in low-and middle income countries where resources and access to healthcare professionals are scarce. In many regions of the world, the taboo and stigma surrounding suicide persist, causing people in need of help to be left alone. 

Suicide prevention with awareness campaigns ought to be prioritized on the global health and public policy agendas as a major public health issue. Routine screening for suicidal ideation by health care professionals providing care should identify and assess suicide risk among populations. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), risk factors of suicide include mental illness, substance use diagnoses, trauma or conflict, loss, family history of suicide, and previous suicide attempts [2].

Effectively implementing suicide prevention strategies at the populational, sub-populational and individual level requires ensuring patients’ lethal means are restricted, reduced, and that all accesss to weapons of self-harm are removed from the nearby environments. Healthcare providers should keep up to date with new developments, research, and technologies screening for suicidal ideation, allowing them to effectively serve patients beyond their clinics’ walls. Key to prevention are strong physician patient relationships that help ensure care transitions allow for physicians to act as supportive contacts reaching out with calls, texts, letters and visits to their patients particularly when services are interrupted. With access to technology the role of psychiatrists, and psychologists may continue uninterrupted as telemedicine serves as an effective platform providing patients with access to care, even during lockdowns. Besides these objectives, greater awareness and education into the community means encouraging the responsible portrayal of suicide in mainstream media. A sensitive issue of this magnitude ought to be communicated responsibly placing special attention to not trigger susceptible individuals. With school based interventions, professionals may act sooner before worsened prognosis’ effectively ensuring that access to peer support services is available. 

Suicide prevention is a responsibility of healthcare systems, medical professionals and communities. All countries must stand in solidarity and unify in collaboration to battle this common threat as preventing the tragic loss of life to suicide is of utmost importance. 

References & Further Reading

  1. In Health and Behavioral Healthcare. (n.d.). Retrieved September 14, 2020, from http://zerosuicide.edc.org/toolkit/treat/interventions-suicide-risk 
  2. Psychiatry Online: DSM Library. (n.d.). Retrieved September 15, 2020, from https://dsm.psychiatryonline.org/doi/book/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596 
Cite this article as: Leah Sarah Peer, Canada, "Suicide – An Emergency Priority of Public Health Care," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, October 19, 2020, https://iem-student.org/2020/10/19/suicide-an-emergency-priority-of-public-health-care/, date accessed: November 24, 2020

Developing Clinical Research Ethics in the Developing World

Developing Clinical Research Ethics in the Developing World

“You are a research fellow working on a clinical trial for cryptococcal meningitis (CM) in Ugandan AIDS patients. If a patient is diagnosed with CM and enrolled in this trial, they receive free care for treatment duration and reimbursement for non-medical expenses. Seventy-five percent of this population lives on less than two dollars per day and cannot afford these costs otherwise. A woman presents with CM symptoms, but after testing her cerebrospinal fluid, she is instead diagnosed with deadly bacterial meningitis. She cannot be enrolled in the trial and is too poor to buy antibiotics. ”

What do you do?

I recently presented this case at a classroom discussion about global health research ethics. When this dying woman’s mother pulled on my lab coat and pleaded for help one day at the government-run Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital (MRRH), where I worked as a clinical research fellow for nearly a year, I did not know what to do, and neither did my peers.

Like many global health-oriented physicians, my career began with short-term medical mission trips as a pre-medical student. However, I found these trips to be self-serving and unsustainable; indeed, the ethical shortcomings of these trips have long been argued because often participants’ benefits outweigh those receiving of their “help.“[1] Thinking research might be a way to develop an ethical global health career, I completed a summer clinical research project in India, which I found more productive and substantial than short-term mission trips. Galvanized by the belief I could change the world through ethical research, I applied for the clinical research fellowship in Uganda.

Ultimately, I found my experience as ethically fraught as the short-term missions I swore to avoid. I am not alone in these sentiments: others have noted that AIDS in Africa has paradoxically been both a source of significant tragedy and significant academic opportunity. Unfortunately, these opportunities are distributed unevenly, producing fresh inequalities. In their efforts to reduce suffering in Africa, some global health researchers have inadvertently capitalized on the intellectual opportunities provided by those same African sufferers.[2]

At MRRH, where the shortages of gloves, saline, and basic medications reflect the hospital’s poverty and its patients, research-based medical care is often the only care people receive. Academic collaborations between western and sub-Saharan African institutions enable African researchers to publish in journals viewed by western audiences. As of 2017, patients presenting to MRRH with tuberculous meningitis or CM were enrolled in American-run clinical trials and treated without charge by experts with effective medications. Western-based surgical teams have improved MRRH’s surgical capacity, where sophisticated procedures are now performed with modern equipment. In 2004, after multinational research programs dedicated to tackling AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria (ATM) worldwide were launched in the late 1990s, clinics started supplying HIV-positive Ugandans with free antiretrovirals and other services, causing a significant decline in HIV-related mortality.[3]

However, inequities in patient care are apparent in the areas of MRRH that have not yet benefitted from foreign research dollars, particularly the intensive care unit and the emergency department. The two working ventilators in the hospital are usually occupied by neurosurgical patients. Deaths due to trauma and road traffic accidents in Africa cause the loss of more life-years than AIDS and malaria combined [4], which is also true at MRRH. Like the woman in the case above, patients suffering from other non-ATM infectious diseases are sometimes victims of these inequalities at MRRH.
This unequal distribution of research wealth in a resource-limited setting such as MRRH troubles me. At MRRH, often, patient care follows research dollars; when the money runs out, so does the patient care. The Declaration of Helsinki requires control groups to receive the ‘best’ current treatment, not the local one – and while in developed countries the difference between ‘best’ and ‘local’ may be small, in settings like MRRH this difference is profound and may result in severe ethical consequences.[5]

In March of 2018, I watched a presentation by researchers who conducted a CM clinical trial in eastern Uganda, similar to ours at MRRH. A conference attendee voiced concern that the trial had violated the Helsinki Declaration, since many participants in the control group had not received any treatment. The presenter responded that the standard of care treatment for CM at this hospital was often no treatment, because the hospital had nothing to treat its patients. And, in late 2017 when the CM clinical trial at MRRH ended, CM patients there no longer received free treatment.

Uganda is often cited as the success story in sub-Saharan Africa in its efforts to reduce its HIV burden, largely due to funding from large international research programs.[6] But perhaps these trials reveal that acceptance of this ethical relativism in clinical research could result in the exploitation of underserved populations abroad for research programs that could not be performed in the sponsoring country.[5] Researchers must first be aware that conducting clinical research in resource-limited settings may create as many inequalities as it alleviates, particularly where the minimal standard of care for certain conditions is lacking. Secondly, research is often the conduit for medical care for impoverished people, which in turn creates unique ethical issues.

How can we global health researchers mitigate some of these ethical quandaries? I suggest that before embarking on clinical research (particularly in underserved areas), researchers assess their site’s health care needs and risk of patient exploitation, and that teams include medical anthropologists and epidemiologists well-versed in the local population’s health care needs and their receptiveness to clinical research. At MRRH, this was not a requirement of institutional review board approval for studies, so research teams must take this responsibility onto themselves.

Billions of people worldwide have benefitted from the discoveries that clinical research provides. Unfortunately, historically in our quest for valuable intellectual resources, those benefits have sometimes come at the cost of human exploitation. To maximize the benefit of clinical research for all involved, global health researchers must ensure this exciting and evolving field grows in an ethically sound manner.

References

  1. Roberts M. Duffle Bag Medicine. The Journal of the American Medical Association. 2006;295(13):1491-2.
  2. Crane JT. Scrambling for Africa: AIDS, Expertise, and the Rise of American Global Health Science. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press; 2013.
  3. Wendler D, Krohmal B, Emanuel EJ, Grady C. Why patients continue to participate in clinical research. Arch Intern Med. 2008;168(12):1294–9.
  4. Hulme P. Mechanisms of trauma at a rural hospital in Uganda. Pan Afr Med J. 2010;7:5.
  5. Angell M. The Ethics of Clinical Research in the Third World. N Engl J Med. 1997;337(12):847–9.
  6.  Epidemiological Fact Sheets on HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections: Uganda [Internet]. 2004. Available from: http://data.unaids.org/publications/fact-sheets01/uganda_en.pdf
Cite this article as: Sarah Bridge, USA, "Developing Clinical Research Ethics in the Developing World," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, September 21, 2020, https://iem-student.org/2020/09/21/clinical-research-ethics/, date accessed: November 24, 2020

COVID-19 Pandemic: Rural Preparations

Hoping for the best while preparing for the worst has been the theme of all medical institutes around the world, especially in counties that are yet to be hit by the dreaded tsunami of overwhelming COVID-19 cases. We have 191 positive cases 153 of which are in the hospital being treated and 33 have recovered. Fortunately, there have been no mortalities till date. [1] The current statistic may not look dreadful given the large numbers that we are exposed to daily these days. Before the cases reached 100, most Nepalese wondered, sometimes boastfully, why the cases are not spreading like wildfire. People went on record, crediting our culture of greeting with Namaste instead of a handshake, eating with hand instead of a spoon – which necessitates handwashing at least 4 times a day, the hygiene hypothesis, the fact that our country has only one international airport, and the universal coverage of BCG vaccination in Nepal. There are too many biases and heuristics at play here, but somewhere inside, I want to believe that at least some of them are true.

The Sukraraj Infectious and Tropical Disease Hospital (STIDH) in Teku, Kathmandu has been designated by the Government of Nepal (GoN) as the primary hospital along with Patan Hospital and the Armed Police Forces Hospital in the Kathmandu Valley. The Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP) has requested the 25 hubs and satellite hospital networks across the country – designated for managing mass casualty events – to be ready with infection prevention and control measures, and critical care beds where available. The Government is allocating spaces for quarantine purposes throughout the country and some sites have already been populated by migrants who recently returned from India. [2]

We have seen healthcare systems that are multi-fold advanced than that of our crumble when faced head-on with this illness. After working in the healthcare system of my country for 2 years, I am convinced that it will take a miracle for us to deal with this pandemic.

I have seen what preparations we are striving towards and what portion of it has been achieved. We are struggling to reach our preparation goals. That is not nearly as frustrating as the fact that many countries whose baseline was our goal have failed terribly. Today keeping the theme of workarounds rather than complaints about things outside of our circle of influence, I am presenting to you some preparatory works being done at Beltar PHC, a peripheral center located in one of the most affected districts, Udayapur, of Nepal. [1]

Credit, where credit is due: We have done 17878 RT-PCR, and 58546 RDT to find 191 positive cases till May 12, 2020. [1] We came up with a protocol and are also gradually updating it to meet the contemporary need. Funny word that contemporary is, especially now that no information gets to age before a new one replaces it. Speaking of temporary, a very recurring theme these days, there are temporary shelters made at every ward level in Beltar. People returning from abroad are kept in isolation for 14 days there. We run a temporary fever clinic at the PHC and refer suspected cases to higher centers for the COVID-19 test. We don’t have rapid diagnostic kits at the PHC yet. Our PHC with 26 staff has received 13 disposable PPEs that we have had the privilege of reusing. There is an Interim reporting form for suspected cases of COVID-19 (based on WHO Minimum Data Set Report Form) which can be downloaded and filled from the MOHP website. [3]

Available PPE at PHC level. Photo credit: Mr. Govinda Khadka
Fever clinic at Beltar PHC. Photo credit: Mr. Govinda Khadka
Quarantine setup at a ward in Chaudandigadi Municipality. Photo credit: Mr. Govinda Khadka

Lockdown was announced in Nepal on March 24, 2020. Excerpt from WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing [4] on COVID-19, 25 March 2020 says this: “Asking people to stay at home and shutting down population movement is buying time and reducing the pressure on health systems. But on their own, these measures will not extinguish epidemics. The point of these actions is to enable the more precise and targeted measures that are needed to stop transmission and save lives. We call on all countries who have introduced so-called “lockdown” measures to use this time to attack the virus. You have created a second window of opportunity. The question is, how will you use it? There are six key actions that we recommend:

  1. Expand, train and deploy your health care and public health workforce;
  2. Implement a system to find every suspected case at the community level;
  3. Ramp up the production, capacity, and availability of testing;
  4. Identify, adapt and equip facilities you will use to treat and isolate patients;
  5. Develop a clear plan and process to quarantine contacts;
  6. Refocus the whole of government on suppressing and controlling COVID-19.”

In Nepal, there has been documentation of protocol for various aspects of the pandemic; PPE for each level of care has been decided, need to scale up the testing recognized, and even the support for Solidarity trials discussed. The protocol designed to tackle COVID-19 recognizes that different strategies for the rural and urban areas are necessary. The response to outbreaks in remote and rural areas where containment may be easier though assistance more difficult vs. outbreak in urban locations where containment is likely more difficult, but treatment and assistance likely to be easier.

The mist of immediate threat followed by the rubble of destruction it causes keeps us blind to the problems lurking in the background. As big and dangerous, if not bigger. Especially when you know nothing even vaguely similar to CARES-Act is being prepared for dampening the direct and indirect economic impact of the epidemic. Add to the fact that the American government’s CARES-Act already faces various criticism—that gives birth to anxiety for even the most seasoned economists. That is looking at just one domain of the post epidemic future. Healthcare might be crippled, social structure tossed over, politics somersaulted and people stripped off their faith. That may give rise to a jigsaw too complicated to attempt. It is high time we start thinking about solving some of those puzzles now.

References

1. Corona Info. Ministry of Health and Population. Accessed May 12, 2020. https://covid19.mohp.gov.np/#/
2. COVID-19 Nepal preparedness and response plan (NPRP) draft. April 9. Accessed May 10, 2020. https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/nepal-documents/novel-coronavirus/covid-19-nepal-preparedness-and-response-plan-(nprp)-draft-april-9.pdf?sfvrsn=808a970a_2
3. Reporting form for COVID. Accessed May 12, 2020. http://edcd.gov.np/resources/download/reporting-form-for-covid
4. Situation reports on COVID-19 outbreak, 25 March 2020. WHO | Regional Office for Africa. Accessed May 12, 2020. https://www.afro.who.int/publications/situation-reports-covid-19-outbreak-25-march-2020

Cite this article as: Carmina Shrestha, Nepal, "COVID-19 Pandemic: Rural Preparations," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, May 25, 2020, https://iem-student.org/2020/05/25/covid-19-pandemic-rural-preparations/, date accessed: November 24, 2020

The AFEM/GECI Emergency Care Pathways

emergency care pathways
Dr. Emilie Calvello Hynes

In this post, we are sharing an announcement with you. One of our contributors, Dr. Emilie Calvello Hynes has something to share with you. Here is her message.

Dear all,

The Global Emergency Care Initiative has created and maintained its Emergency Care Pathways since 2018 on AgileMD in collaboration with the African Federation of Emergency Medicine. We have recently updated and expanded guidance to reflect COVID-19 care in low and middle-income countries.  

If you have colleagues in other countries who could use curated, clinical support in a single source that is updated daily, please consider letting them know about this resource. A flyer attached to aid in dissemination.  
 

We welcome your thoughts and the ability to disseminate this resource further.

In solidarity,

Emilie 

Description
The AFEM/GECI Emergency Care Pathways were launched in 2018 to provide an “at the bedside” reference to help standardized emergency care for common presentations of acute illness for healthcare workers working with limited resources.  
 
The pathways are available online/offline, available via an app or in printable form. The pathways integrate WHO Emergency Care Checklists, updated AFEM Handbook recommendations, WHO Essential Medication Lists and accepted international standards (e.g. Helping Babies Breathe, MSF Guidelines) as a summary reference of best-practice care. The pathways have been peer-reviewed and tagged for differing levels of possible interventions based on resources. The Emergency Care Pathways are meant to be applied after the initial assessment and management taught by the WHO BEC.
 
In addition, the app serves as a repository for open access commonly reference texts, useful protocols, forms and links. The pathways have been updated to reflect useful at the bedside guidance for clinicians during the COVID-19 pandemic. Resources and clinical guidance are updated almost daily.  The links include ACEP guidance, AFEM, WHO, Partners in Health and any other resources we think would be helpful to clinicians practicing in LMICs. 
 
How to sign up
This resource is free to all users and may be registered for via coloradoglobalem.org/register
Emergency Care Pathway
Cite this article as: iEM Education Project Team, "The AFEM/GECI Emergency Care Pathways," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, April 20, 2020, https://iem-student.org/2020/04/20/the-afem-geci-emergency-care-pathways/, date accessed: November 24, 2020

What has COVID-19 taught us thus far.

On a brighter note, more than 150 countries have less than 100 cases as of April 5, 2020. That being said, there probably isn’t an unaffected country on our planet. I am from Nepal, and we have identified 9 cases with one local transmission as of April 5, 2020. One recovered, and 8 in isolation with no death reported to date.[1] It may be hard to comprehend the effect 9 cases have on a country where the probability of dying between the age of 15 and 60 years is 171 per thousand, but total expenditure on health is only 5.8% of GDP. The effect is fairly straightforward but too subtle to get the spotlight amidst this crisis. I contemplated if this is the right time to document these subtleties, but reflections are most useful for future reference only if made accurate. And a major component of accurate reflection is the “time since the event.”

I will take you to the time during my USMLE step 3 preparation and try to tie that in with my point here. One typical day during my preparation, I was doing my 2nd Uworld block and stumbled upon a deceivingly simple question. The gist of the question was: why do patients ask for euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide? I, in the hope of breezing through the question, answered physical pain. To my surprise, that was the most common wrong answer—the right answer: the anticipation of a lack of control and loss of autonomy.
If we are to understand the fear my country is going through, we need to let that information sink. The anticipation of a lack of control makes people ask for help in ending their life.

Nepal ranks 150 in terms of the overall health system in the world. I have been a doctor in one of the most academic tertiary care hospitals here, and I won’t hesitate a second to tell you that our health system will break the moment a fraction of the so-called tsunami of COVID-19 hits us. The country has been on lock-down for nearly two weeks now and plans to stay that way for some more days [Meetings is ongoing, and the final decision hasn’t been reached]. Of course, that will mean people will not have enough money to sustain. Patients of chronic illness will not have enough medicine. The country’s already crippled economy will be damaged beyond repair, and whatever first steps the country was attempting to make towards development will not only be held but legs fractured and eyes blinded. If God forbid, the pandemic hits us hard, no one in Nepal will have outrage that we did not increase the number of ventilators. That just isn’t a variable worth considering [to the general public], given our economy. We are talking about a country where when a village gets a USG machine; it is not used until inaugurated by someone at a position and the inauguration is celebrated like a festival. Everyone who understands the stake knows that we are praying to avoid a war we will invariably lose.

Having said that, I am impressed by the steps taken by the country. Lock-down was a gutsy move. Right when the director-general told people of WHO that lock-down is just a second window of opportunity for countries to prepare for what is to come, I was interested in what our preparedness looks like. Makeshift quarantine rooms are being constructed, test kits being brought in [Update: test kits were of too poor quality to use and hence were returned to China].[2] Patan Academy of Health Sciences, where I studied, has taken the initiative to make their own PPE. Some municipalities are mobilizing locals to make sanitizers, and the government is subsidizing some of the public expenditure. Of course, proportional to the country’s economy, but all this is happening when the country has 9 cases. Remember that actual physical pain was a wrong answer, and the anticipation of future suffering was the right one?

Number of ICU beds increased as preparation for COVID-19 at Patan Academy of Health Sciences, Nepal. Image by Saugat Sen Dhakal via https://www.healthaawaj.com/news/11928/
PPE being prepared at Patan Academy of Health Sciences, Nepal. Image by Saugat Sen Dhakal via https://www.healthaawaj.com/news/11928/

With people staying inside comes a myriad of difficulties. We have already seen it happen, “lucky” us! Everyone will start hoarding on essential supplies, which will increase the price because, apparently, the market still runs on supply and demand. Fear, loneliness, and abundance of time to ruminate on every minuscule of a problem on earth will start showing their effect. Depression, anxiety, and many other psychiatric morbidities will use the time as a breeding season. Household violence increases, and quality of life will take a big toll. Less affluent portions of the population will take a bigger hit in all aspects because inequalities in health are a double injustice; most affected are the people who are already suffering. The graph we hope to flatten will lend its height to the one plotting many other problems.

But we are willing to take that trade and probably everyone should. By no means am I saying that Nepal is doing a great preparation because I know it isn’t. There is much more we can do if we had the resources and global political influence.

We have seen countries with abundance kneeling before this virus. I pay my deepest sympathies to the lost lives around the world and even deeper respect to the frontline warriors. My message here, I guess: When prevention is better than cure is wrong not only because there is no cure but also because you know you will fail to provide care, you better prevent it as your life depends on it. Because it probably does.

Cite this article as: Sajan Acharya, Nepal, "What has COVID-19 taught us thus far.," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, April 13, 2020, https://iem-student.org/2020/04/13/what-has-covid-19-taught-us-thus-far/, date accessed: November 24, 2020

References

  1. WHO. Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) Situation Report—76 [online], 06 apr 2020. [cited 2020 Apr 6]. Available from: https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/situation-reports/20200405-sitrep-76-covid-19.pdf?sfvrsn=6ecf0977_2.
  2. Sapkota R. Nepal to test COVID-19 test kits from China. Nepali Times [Internet]. 2020 Apr 1 [cited 2020 Apr 6]. Available from: https://www.nepalitimes.com/latest/nepal-to-test-covid-19-test-kits-from-china/ 

COVID-19 vs Influenza: A Diagnostic Dilemma

covid 19 vs influenza

During the last two months, the world experienced an outbreak of what was known to be an unknown yet contagious virus, The Coronavirus, namely COVID-19. News circulated about the virus being spread in China, and the number of people affected increased daily. While there was panic in China, other parts of the world were alert and anticipating a few occurrences, but definitely not as much as the situation is today.

Eventually, as the numbers increased, number of hospital staff who started wearing masks and taking necessary precautions increased, anticipating the arrival of the disease into their regions, until a few days later, there was news of the virus being spread to different countries, new cases emerging from different parts of the world, the case fatality rate rising, infection control rules became stricter and this was the start of what has lead the COVID-19 to be announced as a pandemic by the World Health Organization.

While researches are being conducted, treatments are being tested, one of the biggest dilemmas physicians are facing, is to differentiate between Coronavirus and Flu caused by Influenza virus. The latter being a more known and common cause of flu during the winter months.

When news of the coronavirus created alarm in the general public, there was an influx of patients in the Emergency Departments all around the world, most of them being travelers with flu symptoms and airport staff. Since little was known about the virus then, standard infection control protocols were applied as a general rule until a diagnosis and the severity of illness was sought.This created another issue, could this be seasonal flu, or was it Corona? The decision was harder amongst people in extremes of age. When the disease had just been discovered, testing and results took time and little was known, unlike what the situation is today where countries such as South Korea are offering drive-through tests, with results within 24 hours.

This added to the importance of knowing the differences and similarities between the two to provide adequate management and treatment.

Similarities

  1. Transmitted by contact, droplets and fomites.
  2. Both require precautions such as good hand and respiratory hygiene
  3. Both cause mild to severe respiratory illness
  4. People are commonly affected in winter

Differences

  1. Influenza virus has additional symptoms such as muscle aches and fatigue whereas COVID-19 can present with diarrhea
  2. Influenza has a shorter incubation period as compared to COVID-19 (2-14 days)
  3. According to current data, children, women and elderly are more affected by influenza, whereas COVID-19 causes more severe illness in the elderly and those who are immunocompromised and those suffering from underlying medical conditions
  4. COVID-19 is being known to have a higher mortality rate as compared to influenza
  5. Annual vaccines and antiviral agents are effective against influenza, and there is currently no proven treatment for COVID-19
  6. People who have flu caused by influenza are most contagious in the first 3-4 days after contacting the illness

Overview of the COVID- 19

It belongs to the family of Coronaviruses, which may cause illness in animals or humans. In humans, several coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). COVID-19 is the newest type discovered in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.

Method of transmission: is respiratory droplets from the nose or mouth of a person who is infected by the virus (coughs/sneezes within 1 meter).
Incubation period: 1-14 days

Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness, and dry cough. Some patients may have aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, or diarrhea. Around 1 out of every six people who get COVID-19 becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing.

Diagnosis: Nasopharyngeal swab, sputum culture
Chest Xray and CT: Bilateral chest infiltrates, consolidation (pneumonia)
Treatment: Symptomatic until a proven treatment is discovered.

Prevention

The four essential steps:
W – wash hands
A – avoid physical contact and public places
S – sterilize and sanitize regularly
H – hygiene is essential.

Cover your nose or mouth with your bent elbow or tissue while sneezing and dispose of the used tissue immediately.

Wear a mask when you have symptoms of flu to prevent spreading the illness.

Cite this article as: Sumaiya Hafiz, UAE, "COVID-19 vs Influenza: A Diagnostic Dilemma," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, March 25, 2020, https://iem-student.org/2020/03/25/covid-19-vs-influenza/, date accessed: November 24, 2020

References

A case of decreasing resistance in ER

a case decreasing resistance in er

I keep games on the 4th home screen of my cell phone. The third screen is blank. A minuscule of energy required to swipe my thumb has prevented me one too many times from mindlessly launching an RPG. Only to realize 2 hours later I had other plans for those 2 hours. An American comedian, the late Mitch Hedberg famously joked once,

Mitch Hedberg (1968-2005)
Mitch Hedberg (1968-2005)

I have always believed that the subtle truths kneaded so artfully in seemingly light, small-talk-worthy jokes are what makes a comedian a genius. How many times have you thought that you need to pick up that particular grocery or fill up that one conference form only to instead get consumed by what was easily available?

Our mind is built so that it follows the path of least resistance no matter how insignificant the resistance is. Although smudged all over the canvas of self-help, non-fiction genre, medicine somehow isn’t used frequently to exemplify the path of least resistance.

Today, I present to you a case that inspired us at Beltar, to remove one such small resistance from our workflow. The implications as you will see were no less than life-saving.

Rural Health System : Oversimplified

Before I present to you the case, a small preamble: Health care in rural Nepal is still run mostly by paramedics. No matter what spectrum you fall in terms of appreciating their work, the fact remains that they are the major workforce we have at the rural. It suffices to say that they are the portal of entry to the health system of our country for many. All emergency cases, once screened and declared complicated, the medical officer (usually a MBBS doctor) at the PHC sees the patient. Majority of cases are seen only by paramedics – considering 3 to 5 paramedics, usually and barely one medical officer in most PHCs.

A mobile game I wouldn't play

Now that the characters are in place, let’s dive right into the no less than a fairy tale land of the rural health system. Lamenting about the obvious lack of resources has been so old school that I don’t even make a typo while typing about it these days. We had one ECG machine at Beltar. The old ECG machine with its squeaky sound and myriad varieties of artifacts stood with all its mighty bulk inside a locked door of a room. The key protected from no one in particular by the office assistant who would open the door, drag the machine out, bring it to the bedside. The paramedic who decided to do the ECG would then untangle the wire glazed with what little of gel we had applied to the previous patient. He would then connect the limb leads and the pre-cordial leads with the trusty suction knobs which hopefully has some gel left from the previous use and then comes the biggest connection to be made: connecting the machine to the power grid. “Don’t you keep your machine charged!?”, you ask. We do. But the Li-ion battery probably has undergone autophagy, or whatever fancy name the process is given. That is a lot of steps and by extension, a lot of resistance. If this were a mobile game, I don’t think I would be addicted to it.

A Race Against Time

A patient with diabetes who had visited our ER a couple of times before was being monitored for chest pain at around 7 AM on a Saturday morning. I was washing my clothes on the first floor unaware that my Saturday is not going to be about laundry and daily chores. When I was called to check the patient, she was already deteriorating at a rate far greater than our PHC could ever catch up. We tried to borrow the speed of an ambulance and refer the patient to a higher center. An ST elevation in any two contiguous lead is an MI. Our paramedics knew that. To everybody’s surprise, ECG was not done! Given the fact that we did not have cardiac enzymes available at the PHC and Aspirin was all we could have prescribed before discharge anyway: we gave the patient 2 Aspirin tablets to chew and referred her as fast as we could. My paramedic colleagues have demonstrated utmost clinical competence and professionalism too many times to doubt any of that. The work environment was still error-prone and the circumstance demanded a change. Could we have changed the outcome given the same resources and clinical scenario? Maybe we need to decrease the resistance I thought. Changing how we store ECG (shown in the picture below), making it more accessible not only increased the frequency with which it was being used but also served as a reminder. A physical question hanging down the IV stand asking anyone who is attending a case, “Do you need to use me?”

ECG machine in plain sight with IV stand holding the limb and pre-cordial leads for accessibility

Workarounds: Because Solutions are Late to the Party.

If you have been following my writings, you’d have noticed this as another small tweak, a workaround, a nudge to the existing system so to speak that isn’t the substitute for the actual sustainable solution. Robust training that helps hard-working paramedics conceptualize and understand the protocols related to the use of basic yet life-saving diagnostics like ECG can be a start. We tried printing and pasting some protocols on the walls; another workaround we hope would help make patient care better until it actually sustainably improves. Another workaround that a friend suggested was: everyone who aches above the waist, gets an ECG. Such simplification works well to decrease the resistance in learning complex protocols. I am sure there are plenty of workarounds used worldwide, a necessity, after all, is the mother of invention. I leave you with a thought: What effect do you think will a systematic sharing of such workarounds among the rural healthcare workers will produce?

Guides to ECG electrode placement and protocols
Cite this article as: Carmina Shrestha, Nepal, "A case of decreasing resistance in ER," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, February 21, 2020, https://iem-student.org/2020/02/21/a-case-of-decreasing-resistance-in-er/, date accessed: November 24, 2020

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Basic Emergency Care (BEC): A New Global Health Framework

BEC WHO

Experienced emergency medicine providers know the ins and outs of how to approach and assess any patient of any age with a critical illness. As has been discussed previously on this blog, the need to rapidly identify and manage sick and dying patients requires a systematic approach. When a new patient arrives for care, or alternatively when a patient decompensates and gets acutely sicker, the emergency medicine provider is tasked with systematically identifying and treating such conditions.

Because most trauma and critical care approaches and training modules were developed and implemented in high-income, resource-rich contexts, there has long been a need for a systematic approach to critically ill patients in lower-income settings.

Over the past several years, the World Health Organization, the International Committee of the Red Cross/Red Crescent, and the International Federation for Emergency Medicine have been working together to develop and create a training course to aid frontline providers in managing acute illness and acute injury in resource-limited contexts.

BEC in Uganda 2
Zambian BEC course facilitators Hassan, Alex, Chipoya (doctors), and Irene (nurse) demonstrate how to safely move an injured patient.

Since 2018, the World Health Organization’s Basic Emergency Care course has been developed and refined as a way to teach a systematic, high-yield approach to urgent and emergent health problems. Using both triage and interventional strategies, the course trains participants to be prepared to deal with a variety of critical illnesses, with a focus on trauma, breathing, shock, and altered mental status.

The BEC course is generally given as a 4 to 6-day course to individuals working in healthcare systems around the world. The BEC course is intended for individuals who might be able to or expected to provide emergent patient care, including students, trainees, nurses, physicians, and even pre-hospital or inpatient care providers, among others. This course is not only intended for emergency medicine physicians, but for all types of locally appropriate providers.

The BEC course participants first learn about the ABCDE approach to ill patients, with a recurring emphasis on obtaining a focused patient history using the SAMPLE mnemonic. These skills are crucial and can be applied to almost any patient in any context.

BEC in Uganda
Tanzanian BEC course facilitators, Suzie (nurse) and Juma (doctor) demonstrate infant resuscitation.

The knowledge gained around ABCDEs and the SAMPLE histories are then applied across the four main care modules in the course, which are: trauma, breathing, shock, and altered mental status. As has been pointed out by others, before any patient goes from alive to dead, they usually pass through the framework of one of these four critical care modules. The hypoglycemic patient develops altered mentation, or the patient with pneumonia develops respiratory distress. As such, lifesaving interventions at these crucial action points can truly save lives.

Each day of the 5-day training course generally has a mix of lectures, group discussions, case scenarios, and hands-on skills stations. The freely available WHO BEC Handbook can help one to better understand the course structure and content.

It should be noted that the BEC course does presume the participant has a very basic but pre-existing knowledge of some of the following: basic human anatomy, basic history taking, basic physical examination skills including vital signs auscultation and abdominal exam, use of a glucometer, and the use of intravenous and intramuscular medications.

In several locations around the world, after the completion of the 5-day course, a Training of the Trainers course has been given, where top course participants and other health system leaders come together to learn how to teach the BEC course. As such, there is a goal for developing and cultivating both local leadership regarding the skills and knowledge around care during critical illness. Subsequently, a locally perpetual training around BEC can take root and become the new standard of emergency care.

Early research by Tenner et al., among others, into the efficacy and impact of the BEC course is showing that indeed, the WHO BEC course is both effective and helpful. For those who are interested in either taking the course, or in becoming a certified trainer, you can contact your national or local emergency medicine leaders and ask for times and locations near you where there may be the opportunity to take this incredibly valuable and impactful course. One such BEC and follow-on training of the trainer course will be taking place in Rwanda in March of 2020; to contribute financially to this Rwandan effort, consider a small donation: here.

References

  • Tenner AG, Sawe HR, Amato S, et al. Results from a World Health Organization pilot of the Basic Emergency Care Course in Sub Saharan Africa. PLoS One. 2019;14(11):e0224257. Published 2019 Nov 13. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0224257 – pdf link
Cite this article as: J. Austin Lee, USA, "Basic Emergency Care (BEC): A New Global Health Framework," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, February 17, 2020, https://iem-student.org/2020/02/17/basic-emergency-care/, date accessed: November 24, 2020

Sickle Cell, Pain and the Emergency Department

Sickle Cell Disease

It’s 2 AM, and the Pediatric Emergency Department (ED) at a community  hospital in New York is overflowing with children and caregivers. A young Nigerian boy is being transported down the center of a hallway, past a long line of doors to patient rooms. The porter is calm and walks briskly, determined to bring this boy to get immediate care. The boy winces, his hands outstretched next to him, rigid, and frozen in space, and while he is seated in the wheelchair, his legs bent at the knees are thin frames, held in place with his feet planted on the wheelchair pedestals. He is afraid to move any of his extremities; tears are rolling down his face; he is fighting the urge to grimace and furrow his brow. He cries how much it hurts to move. He knows he needs help.  Behind him, his mother follows close holding a one-year-old baby in her arms, and behind her, five other young children aged 3 through to thirteen stream in. There is quiet concern on all of their faces. The older siblings have seen this before. We learn that he has Sickle Cell Disease (SCD). He has been in excruciating pain for the past 4 hours and is now presenting with dactylitis. This case has not been the first in this ED, and like other EDs across the United States and in the world, the number of cases presenting with SCD will increase.

Sickle Cell Disease in the Emergency Dept: a global public health issue iEM Dhir

Sickle Cell Disease (SCD)

SCD is a condition that causes red blood cells to morph from a biconcave dumbbell-shaped disc, into a rigid semi-circular shape. This disease is inherited genetically by receiving two sickle genes, one from each parent and risk for complications are attributed to a variety of factors, including deoxygenation, dehydration. It is most common in African Americans as well as Latinos and people of Middle Eastern, Indian, Asian and Mediterranean backgrounds.  In the United States, SCD is the most common genetic blood disorder and affects approximately 100,000 Americans(1) and although babies are screened at birth, management plans vary with the degree of disease progression and exacerbation severity, as well as with the availability of resources and education.

RBCs in Sickle Cell Disease
Image: Sickle cells and normal red blood cells from Sickle Cell Disease, Genome. Gov

Why Emergency Physicians need to be Familiar with SCD

SCD affects both pediatric and adult patients, and it has been reported that patients between the ages of 18 to 30 years old have increased emergency department utilization. A major reason for this is due to the transition by young adults from pediatric to adult care in the management of SCD, and this population is simultaneously also learning to navigate the health care system and community resources (pediatric to adult care, insurance, independent decision making, housing, education, workforce) as discussed further below(2). In addition, the use of community health workers is important as they can act as liaisons between the health care systems and patients to disseminate information and resources. However, despite the awareness of the disproportionate use of the ED among patients with SCD, the social factors that impact care remain unknown(3) and more research and investigation is needed to understand this patient population.

Often when a complication or crisis occurs in patients with SCD, patients seek immediate care in the Emergency Department. Included in the potential list of complications include infections, such as those with encapsulated bacteria; sepsis; stroke; splenic sequestration, and early treatment is essential in managing patients. Of these complaints, the emergent cases to be aware of in the ED include vaso-occlusive crisis and pain, sickle cell anemia (SCA)(4) central nervous system such as stroke, and acute chest syndrome (ACS), where ACS due to blocked capillaries in the lungs, may be caused by infections, asthma exacerbations and/or pulmonary embolisms, and is the leading cause of morbidity in patients with SCD. Further, the Emergency Severity Index (ESI) Version 4 triage system, commonly used in the majority of EDs in the United States, suggest that patients with SCD be triaged as ESI level 2, indicating a very high priority, and that rapid placement be facilitated(5).

Although the discussion of complications of SCD including the presentation and management is a complex topic, and will be covered in detail in future posts, information and algorithms for clinicians are available online for reference. One such resource is a treatment algorithm that acts as a how-to guide for SCD and is available online in the Annals of Emergency Medicine(6). This approach is based on the point-of-care hemoglobin level, and discusses issues such as myonecrosis, aplastic crisis, ACS.

Sickle Cell Disease in the Emergency Dept: 1 in 4 patients in the USA with SCD receive standard care iEM Dhir

Pain in SCD

When tissues and organs are not adequately perfused with oxygen, in part due to the sickled shape of RBCs, tissue damage and death can occur. Patient management of vaso-occulusive crisis and pain varies by practices and the medications available for use around the world, however it is important to note that pain in patients with SCD is often extreme and may require treatment with opioids. In a response to the American Society of Hematology (ASH) draft recommendations to Sickle Cell Disease-Related Pain in May 2019(7),  emDOCs.net published a response to the drafted recommendations and offered insight to pain management and includes an algorithm(8). The insight provided is essential in decreasing the suffering experienced by patients during an SCD crisis, and notes the use of Dilaudid, Ketamine, Dexmedetomidine, and Lidocaine. Further, the understanding of limiting the use of NSAIDS due to impaired renal function caused by the disease is also outlined in the response.

Management of pain in pediatric patients with SCA and vaso-occulsive pain also varies according to hospital and individual provider practices, and scientific investigation and patient research is needed to provide proper care to this population. An example includes a study by PECARN addressing the use of a normal saline bolus in pediatric emergency departments found an association with poorer pain control(9). Identifying and implementing results from research studies is important in understanding and managing SCD in both adult and pediatric patients.

Emergency Physicians around the world should be aware of strategies for identifying SCD, and management, specifically in areas around the world where refugees from countries with SCD prevalence is common. Countries where refugees and migrants are commonly are known to disembark, such as those in southern Europe(10) and certain areas in the United States and Canada would benefit from in-depth analysis of the issue and could allow for appropriate and accessible health care to vulnerable populations, as well as educate providers who are unexposed to managing emergencies in SCD patients while setting in place integrated and individual health plans away from emergency room dependence(11). In developing countries with SCD populations, such as Nigeria, there is a high prevalence of pediatric emergency cases, and the proper management of the disease as well as policy and hospital organization for high volume and off-hour admissions, may reduce hospital stays(12). Further, the self-efficacy of adult patients with SCD, from education, pro-active efforts, understanding of disease management, also can allow for decreased ED visits and hospitalizations for pain(13).

SCD affects approx 100,000 Americans Sickle Cell Disease in the Emergency Dept iEM Dhir

Investigations, Resources, Education

A number of investigative studies, clinical trials and research is being conducted around the world for a better understanding of SCD, including patient care in adult and pediatric patients, genetic factors, supportive services, associated co-morbidities, and search for cures. Investigations around the world include collaborations and information sharing between academic researchers, patients, clinical providers, and health care providers and officials around the world.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute hosted a series of Webinars in September 2018, during Sickle Cell awareness month from experts in blood science and sickle science research and are available to watch for free online(14). Some of the key highlights from two of the webinars: Serving the Sickle Cell Disease Community Here and Abroad; Sickle Cell Transitional Care from Childhood to Adulthood, are discussed here.

SCD occurs in 1 out of ever 365 Black or African American births, Sickle Cell Disease in the Emergency Dept, iEM Dhir

Webinar Overview Serving the Sickle Cell Disease Community Here and Abroad
Presented by Dr. Keith Hoots, Director of Division of Blood Diseases and Resources, NHLBI
  • Prevalence of the disease is so much larger in Africa than most places in the world. There are as many babies born with SCD born in Nigeria there are babies born with SCD, by estimate, as there almost are total people with SCD in the United States.
  • There is a need to share research and practices in the developed world with the developing world.
Three New Research Initiatives in Africa:
  • The Sickle Pan-African Research Consortium (SPARCO)
    Overview: The study sites for this research include East Africa (Tanzania), West Africa (Ghana, Nigeria) and central Africa (Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo) with the goal to later include 20 sites in 15 countries. SPARCO’s aim is to develop an SCD database, standards of care, and strengthen research investigation.
  • Realizing Effectiveness Across Continents With Hydroxyurea (REACH):
    Overview: Safety and dosing of hydroxyurea therapy for SCA in pediatric patients in sub-Saharan Africa; sponsored by the Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati
  • Sickle Cell Disease Genomics of Africa (SickleGenAfrica)
    Overview: The purpose is to develop strategies to predict, prevent and treat organ damage in SCD and to investigate biomarkers associated with the development of organ damage, including molecules released during red blood cell damage in sub-Saharan African populations.
Webinar Overview: Sickle Cell Transitional Care from Childhood to Adulthood
Part 1 Presented by Dr. David Wong, MD, FAAP, Medical Officer, Office of Minority Health
  • SCD is no longer a childhood disease. Young adults are at a higher risk for hospitalization due to illness and pain.
  • Treatment and management examples in childhood include annual transcranial dopplers to assess for risk of stroke; vaccinations; hydroxyurea; L-glutamine; opioids for pain management; penicillin prophylaxis; RBC transfusions;  water intake to avoid exacerbations due to dehydration; splenectomy. The cure available is bone marrow transplant.
  • Prior to July 2017, Hydroxyurea was the only FDA approved therapy for 20 It is used in adults and children. It has been shown to reduces hospital admissions, pain crisis, and ACS however barriers to hydroxyurea use exist. These include difficulty with communicating the use to patients and caregivers, issues with frequent monitoring, lack of adherence, lack of provider knowledge and comfort with its use.
  • Community Health Workers (CHWs) are key players in effective patient care. CHW can provide information affected by social and health determinants from local economic and environmental (housing, employment), local communities (families, safety, support), activities (learn, work, play, move, shop), lifestyles (alcohol, drugs, smoking, sexual health, physical activity, and individual needs (age, genetics). CHW are experts in condition-specific information and navigating complex health systems, including accessing care in a medical home (the approach to providing comprehensive care). This is particularly important when care is not always contained or organized by one organization, where care should be accessible, continuous, comprehensive, family-oriented, coordinated, compassionate and culturally competent. Pediatric medical home principles include family-centered partnerships, community-based systems, transition care, value.  Interventions for education such as warning signs and treatment options and links to care are important.
  • The SCD Newborn screening program, and the Sickle Cell Disease Treatment Demonstration Program for patients who solely rely on the ED for SCD care, aid the care options for patients with SCD.

Follow this iEM story for part two which will include information on adult and pediatric management of SCD in the ED, as well as an overview of four NHLBI webinars: Holistic Health and Sickle Cell Disease A Focus on Mental and Behavioral Health; Genetic Therapies in Sickle Cell Disease; Bone Marrow Transplants, Other Therapies, and Sickle Cell; Improvement Initiatives and Ongoing Research.

SCD occurs 1 out of ever 16,300 Hispanic-American birthds, Sickle Cell Disease in the Emergency Dept, iEM Dhir

Further Reading

Emergency Department Sickle Cell Care Coalition: Resources
https://www.acep.org/by-medical-focus/hematology/sickle-cell/resources/

National Institute of Health’s Cure Sickle Cell Initiative:
https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/science/cure-sickle-cell-initiative

2019 sickle cell disease guidelines by the American Society of Hematology: methodology, challenges, and innovations: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31794603

Sickle Cell Disease Training And Mentoring Program (STAMP): https://www.minorityhealth.hhs.gov/sicklecell/#stamp

Episode 68 Emergency Management of Sickle Cell Disease: https://emergencymedicinecases.com/emergency-management-of-sickle-cell-disease/

Practice Variation in Emergency Department Management of Children With Sickle Cell Disease Who Present With Fever. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30020250

 

References

1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Sickle Cell Disease 

2 Sickle Cell Transitional Care from Childhood to Adulthood: Youtube

3 Journal of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology. 42(1):e42–e45, JANUARY 2020, DOI: 10.1097/MPH.0000000000001669 PMID: 31743315

4 Porter M. Rapid fire: sickle cell disease. Emerg Med Clin North Am. 2018;36:567–576

5 Evidence Based Management of Sickle Cell Disease: Report

6 Sickle Cell Crisis and You: A How-to Guide, Raam R., Mallemat H., Jhun P., Herbert M. (2016)  Annals of Emergency Medicine,  67  (6) , pp. 787-790

7 The American Society of Hematology Website: 

8 ED Management of Sickle Cell Vaso-occlusive Crises: Myths, Facts, and A Novel Approach to Acute Pain Management, EMdocs.net website

9 Normal saline bolus use in pediatric emergency departments is associated with poorer pain control in children with sickle cell anemia and vaso-occlusive pain, Am J Hematol. 2019 Jun;94(6):689-696

10 Lucia De Franceschi, Caterina Lux, Frédéric B. Piel, Barbara Gianesin, Federico Bonetti, Maddalena Casale, Giovanna Graziadei, Roberto Lisi, Valeria Pinto, Maria Caterina Putti, Paolo Rigano, Rossellina Rosso, Giovanna Russo, Vincenzo Spadola, Claudio Pulvirenti, Monica Rizzi, Filippo Mazzi, Giovanbattista Ruffo, Gian Luca Forni; Access to emergency departments for acute events and identification of sickle cell disease in refugees. Blood 2019; 133 (19): 2100–2103

11 Sickle Cell Disease Training And Mentoring Program Website 

12 Robert M Cronin, Tim Lucas Dorner, Amol Utrankar, Whitney Allen, Mark Rodeghier, Adetola A Kassim, Gretchen Purcell Jackson, Michael R DeBaun, Increased Patient Activation Is Associated with Fewer Emergency Room Visits and Hospitalizations for Pain in Adults with Sickle Cell Disease, Pain Medicine, Volume 20, Issue 8, August 2019, Pages 1464–1471

13 Enyuma, Callistus Oa et al. “Patterns of paediatric emergency admissions and predictors of prolonged hospital stay at the children emergency room, University of Calabar Teaching Hospital, Calabar, Nigeria.” African health sciences vol. 19,2 (2019): 1910-1923. doi:10.4314/ahs.v19i2.14

14 National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Webinars

* Images from The Sickle Cell Disease Tool Kit.

Cite this article as: Bryn Dhir, USA, "Sickle Cell, Pain and the Emergency Department," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, January 27, 2020, https://iem-student.org/2020/01/27/sickle-cell-pain-and-the-emergency-department/, date accessed: November 24, 2020

Advantages of Global Health and International Emergency Medicine Outreach Experiences

Bryn Dhir - Global Health

Wherever you go, be all there

– Jim Elliot

International medicine is among the most valuable experiences not only for residents and students, but for physicians from all specialties. Emergency medicine (EM) physicians, in particular, have previously been highlighted with critical qualities and characteristics essential to successfully providing medical aid and care in some of the most remote regions, rugged wilderness, and disaster zones. In recent years, the practice of physicians travelling overseas with the goal of outreach, and professional and personal development, has been met with the flux of international patients travelling to the United States and Canada in search of medical treatment, as well as international physicians seeking to develop their own clinical skills and enhance medical practices to take back home. Physicians and patients both face challenges associated with these new experiences: the stresses of traveling, financial concerns, family obligations, cultural practices, and preparing for the unknown. As such, it is important to remember that patients also encounter anxiety, cultural and communication differences, have concerns for the continuity of care associated with filling in missing gaps in their own medical records and fluctuating medical aid providers and often lack medical knowledge and understanding of health issues. Interactions that patients have with visiting physicians can also allow patients to gain insight into new practices, cultures and traditions. These experiences can be life-changing for everyone involved.

While global outreach, international medicine or disaster preparedness isn’t for everyone, it is important to remember that global health does not equate to the definition of international medicine, and that there is a strong need for domestic medical outreach in rural America and Canada, in locations that present with similar challenges of underserved patient populations and with limited resources. Nonetheless, the benefits of medical work in new environments outside of comfort zones can provide tremendous benefits and contributes to the overall continuous development of a well-rounded physician. The advantages of participating in global health and international medicine are extensive, and this article highlights only some of the major benefits.

Strengthen leadership, communication and interpersonal skills

Before EM physicians begin their medical work with patients, the potential to strengthen leadership, communication and interpersonal skills through interactions with local residents is often experienced with language being a major factor in effective communication. This includes not only the spoken word, knowledge of key phrases in the native tongue, but the use of body language, eye contact, and hand gestures. Understanding different approaches to patient scheduling, staff and local perceptions about meal, travel and leisure times, administrative and medical support, and negotiation and conflict management skills, allows for a more productive and enjoyable experience. Further, not only are individual skills, but so is teamwork and an understanding of the functional dynamics. Participation in outreach contributes to the development of many skills including independent decision making, project management (from funding to administration, allocation of materials and supplies, to public relations and follow up), and creativity in the face of limited resources.

Team building and group dynamics
Team building and group dynamics through icebreakers and interactive games for medical volunteers. The ability to draw on previous training and skill sets outside of clinical practice is beneficial for ease flexibility, adaptability and cooperation.

Cultural Competency

Exposure to patients contributes to cultural awareness, understanding of the impact of socioeconomic factors on health care, historical and geographical issues, and puts to use clinical and language skills while immersed in a new environment. Participating in local events is a valuable learning experience, and clinical work in the developing world or remote rural locations in North America can contribute to a physician’s ability to understand and advocate for patient health care needs.
These basics will allow for a better understanding of cultural differences, institutional and policy barriers, communication barriers, managing through unknown and incomplete medical records, financial constraints which can limit tests and treatments, and influence management as medical work begins. Numerous resources are available for emergency physicians entering new environments for the first time to help provide insights regarding gender issues, cultural practices, religion, politics, current social events to name a few. It is important to do thorough background research into patient populations and to be aware of the community you will be entering. For EM physicians in rural North America, opportunities to work with nongovernment organizations and refugees can provide exposure to international and global patient populations who need your clinical skills and medical training. The American College of Emergency Physicians(1), Emergency Medicine Residents Association(2), Society for Academic Emergency Medicine(3), offer thorough information and resources for rotations and fellowships for international emergency medicine, and the American Academy of Family Physicians lists resources for physicians interested in Global Health(4). A list of additional reading and resources is provided below.

understanding cultural differences
Getting acquainted with local surroundings, understanding cultural differences and being open to participate in traditions while maintaining the security of your team and yourself.

Exposure to new practices and health care systems

Physician shortages and limited financing of healthcare are global concerns; however, there is an excellent benefit for physicians who learn to treat and understand a variety of patient populations despite these limitations.

This is an essential obligation of EM physicians. International medical rotations are a concept that has slowly been incorporated into medical schools. Nearly ten years ago, a survey published in Academic Medicine concluded that international rotations broadened medical knowledge and reinforced physician examination skills(5).

International rotations broadened medical knowledge and reinforced physician examination skills.

– Academic Medicine

Further, learning about other healthcare systems, medication preferences and availability, and equipment as well as protocols and practices, can allow for incorporating practices back home, as well as suggesting sustainable changes for improvement overseas.

The challenge of thinking outside the box and learning to be resourceful with equipment is yet another benefit to international medicine, where poverty-related diseases demand thoughtful consideration to resources and long-term management of patient cases. Distinguishing differences among clinical practice and procedural skills in a respectful, intuitive manner and with an understanding of varying standards of care and limited resources is also essential for international outreach. While dealing with these issues may be frustrating, maintaining confidence in one’s own training, calling on previous life experiences and harnessing multi-disciplinary teams with diverse cultural backgrounds, will prove to be beneficial in providing effective patient treatment. Besides, exposure to other health care systems can allow for research into the best strategies for administration and management, for not only physician practices, but for patients and health care systems at large.

Medical clinic on Station Hill, Mayreau Island
Medical clinic on Station Hill, Mayreau Island in the Grenadines. This isolated island is only accessible by boat. Island size: 0.46 square miles, population 271. The number of patients care for during an outreach clinic was approximately 70.
global health

Medical Knowledge, Self-Sufficiency, Resources and Equipment

Caring the patients reveal the diversity of diseases and disorders and provide insight on the local health care issues. The variety of cases differs between hospital and ambulatory settings. EM physicians have the opportunity to see and manage rare diseases and disorders uncommon back home, with a highlight on cases involving infectious diseases, toxicology, advanced diseases. Knowledge of disease presentations, prevalence, and exposure to the seemingly foreign diseases has been a recent consideration with the migration of people not only at the international scale, but at the local level across the States. Social, mental, and financial support is another layer that health care systems are working to provide for these vulnerable patient populations. Moreover, the added pressure of finding solutions for medical cases requiring advanced procedures can be disheartening, and EM physicians must become the nurse, specialist, social worker, therapist, surgeon, administrator, pharmacist and physical therapist all in one. Creative uses of equipment, thinking outside the box, and making use of what is available are other factors that will be frequently tested while in the field. Training in the wilderness and extreme medicine, as well as rural family medicine practices is advantageous for physicians in the global setting where multiple uses for one instrument is applied in various situations. Nonetheless, adhering to the training in medical school and residency is the basis for all medical work and ethical best practice, professionalism and management are the foundation to providing patient care regardless of location.

Learning to do IV
Learning to do IV placements using self-designed, mock equipment and the understanding of the importance of improvisation, flexibility and limited resources.
Knowledge of how to operate medical equipment
Knowledge of how to operate medical equipment without support staff is beneficial.

In response to the growing interest and need for physicians in underserved global populations, there has been an increase in funding opportunities.Prior to embarking into unknown territory and patient scenarios, it is recommended that a physician’s own resources are known, including potential health risks, and that support systems are in place in order to maintain a mental and physical balance to provide care where it is desperately needed. Culture shock, grief and sadness, personal debriefing and reflection, and adjusting to life back home is an additional element to tend to.

neonatal care and pediatric care
There is a great need for neonatal care and pediatric care on a global scale. Experience with these patients will be an asset in the field.

Outreach, Education, Research, Mentorship

The opportunity to provide preventative and screening information directly to patients through clinics and to physicians at training sessions allows for direct two-way communication, clarity and the sharing of knowledge bases. Additional outreach at clinics and mobile health units often add to the overall value and maximizes a physician’s ability to provide outreach and education. Furthermore, opportunities may exist for collaborations with clinicians and scientists as well as health policy advisors. Although the notion of global health has attracted the fad of medical tourism and entails a certain novelty of volunteering abroad, emergency physicians have a great opportunity to make a lasting difference on the lives of their patients as well as those of international colleagues who are either interested in practicing in North America(6) or who will stay with the communities and health systems they are in. Therefore, building and fostering a network of connections for the future is an important and positive outcome, with the potential to provide up to date journal articles, resources to evidence-based medicine and free online medical education, and can allow you to incorporate global health initiatives and outreach back home. At the end of the day, physicians who are driven to extend their medical knowledge and clinical skills into regions with a desperate need for health care and vulnerable patient populations are often those who have made the commitment to serve as an emergency physician.

Basic wilderness training
Basic wilderness training with a focus here on evacuating an injured victim in remote communities (here in northern Nunavut, Canada).
positive lasting impacts on youth.
Global outreach and international medicine opportunities can include taking the time to travel out of the clinic and visit schools to train and share knowledge with younger students. Creating interest and awareness can have a positive lasting impacts on youth.
Youth often appreciate visits to their schools
Youth often appreciate visits to their schools, and their interest in health care, medicine, prevention can be highlighted with education in emergency services, as well as through games and storytelling.

The experience of a global project and working in a clinic on an international scale enables EM physicians and students from all levels of training to provide care in emergent situations from disaster and humanitarian relief to outreach clinics. For physicians and students who opted to pursue medical education in a global setting, as an international graduate or for North American physicians who thrive on global health and international outreach, the experiences are unlike those in North America, and there is an abundance of personal and professional learning and development to gain. Experiences outside of comfort zones, whether in rural America or overseas, create a global community to better medical practices and often advocacy for health care continues long after a global project has concluded.

The Model of the teaching hospital, which links research to teaching and service is what's missing in global health

– Paul Farmer

This article touched on the advantages and benefits of stepping outside comfort zones to provide medical care to vulnerable patient populations, and a follow up to this article will be how to overcome the challenges and barriers that physicians may encounter. Have you participated in a global health project or international outreach? Please feel free to share your own thoughts and reflect on your experiences in the comments section below.

A Piton climb for the view, St Lucia.
A Piton climb for the view, St Lucia. Medical outreach and travel is a demanding endeavor, however quiet moments to enjoy the process and experiences will make it a rewarding one.

Additional Reading and Resources

  • What is International Emergency Medicine? Academic Life in Emergency Medicine – link
  • International Emergency Medicine Section, American College of Emergency Physicians – link
  • The Practitioner’s Guide to Global Health, American College of Emergency Physicians – link
  • US Residents: Discover the World with Emergency Medicine, Emergency Medicine Residents Association – link
  • Fellowship Database, Society for Academics Emergency Medicine – link

Link To References

Cite this article as: Bryn Dhir, USA, "Advantages of Global Health and International Emergency Medicine Outreach Experiences," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, December 4, 2019, https://iem-student.org/2019/12/04/advantages-of-global-health/, date accessed: November 24, 2020

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iEM Education Project in 12 Questions

iem edu project interview

Many simultaneous activities are going on inside the iEM Education project. This is one of the reachest platforms for medical students and educators in order to help improving undergraduate emergency medicine. We listed 12 questions and asked the iEM Education Project founder and director. Here are all answers in 8 minutes video. At the end of the video, please do not hesitate to click here to be a contributor.

Rubik’s Cubing an Emergency Room

rubik's cubing

Lush green land and open spaces, fresh air that reminds us of how artificial our all-natural room fresheners smell, and quiet nights decorated with twinklings of a starry sky and the musical buzz of crickets. That is how most would imagine a village. Few of these imaginations remain borrowable if anyone were to engage in the same exercise in regards to an ER in the village. For starters, nights aren’t as quite, color and smell changes depending on what patient you are treating that day and the space of the room shrinks in proportion to the distance you traveled to reach that village.

Former Emergency Setup at Beltar PHC
Former Emergency Setup at Beltar PHC

Two years ago, when I was posted at Beltar Primary Health Care Center (PHC), little did I know that a sparsely populated village’s abundance of space rarely follows through to the emergency room. The obvious lack of infrastructure is, of course, the major problem. In the health system of Nepal, emergency services are designed to be provided at the hospital level. However, keeping the need for emergency services in mind, health workers in the rural areas are left to run makeshift ERs. At our PHC, what was supposed to be the waiting lobby for patients was used for an ER. The lack of a four-walled room meant that the only sense of privacy was provided by the patient’s fumbling awareness owing to intense pain and the physician’s focus completely overwhelmed by trying to be resourceful amidst obvious lack of resources. Hordes of curious onlookers crowding to see what was going on is a common scene in our ER that one would start ignoring after a month or two.

After banging our heads on problems that require far more resources and policies than that within our reach, we are left to take a sensible path – focusing on one small thing at a time and changing it for the better. Today I present to you an incident that inspired us to make an effort into making one such change happen.

A 28-year-old male

Like any on-duty doctor, I found myself rushing to the ER after a call. A 28-year-old male was brought after a sudden loss of consciousness while playing football. We quickly realized that CPR was in order and jumped right at it. Quite literally so, as the arrangement of beds in the ER was such that you could only deliver quality compressions if you are on the patient’s bed.

Elephant in the room

When I asked our paramedic to start bag and mask ventilation, he looked at me in confusion – the bed was placed against the wall and he would have to jump across the patient to provide one. Our nurse had to squeeze her way through the crowd of onlookers to find the needed medication. In the end, all of us were disappointed. Exhausted physically and mentally yet pondering on things we could have done differently, like any other resuscitation team would, after an unsuccessful CPR. After ruminating on the quality of CPR, availability of better equipment, training and all other aspects of a good resuscitation, we finally addressed the elephant in the room.

Bigger space or ...

The most obvious solution of shifting our ER to a bigger space was simply not an option. What we could do was make small changes that could make things a bit better. The nature of problem-solving has to be such that the biggest constraints remain (because we rarely can do anything about them). What is it that a bigger space adds? Big space adds orderliness. As I was pondering on this question, I had an idea that felt like an epiphany. I remembered one of my toys as a kid – a Rubik’s cube. We do not expand our Rubik’s cube to make it orderly. We rearrange it – you get to manipulate the pieces but not the whole cube. Thus, we started the mission of Rubik’s cubing our ER.

Rubik's cube

Rubik's Cubing

We had four beds in our ER. We wanted a separate resuscitation bed with enough surrounding space. We moved all three beds to one side of the room; installed two privacy screens instead of both a door and a wall (sorry onlookers!). We repaired and re-stocked the crash cart, placed each medicine in separate compartments in the drawers and labelled them properly.

Makeshift door using privacy screen
Makeshift door using privacy screen
Resuscitation area at Beltar PHC
Resuscitation area at Beltar PHC
Crash cart
Crash cart
Labelled medications
Labelled medications

A few weeks later, we performed CPR in another patient. The patient was rushed to our resuscitation bed, the privacy screens were drawn and the crash cart pulled near the bed. After we resuscitated the patient, we started the age-old culture of replaying the scene in our head and trying to figure out what else could be done. We obviously came up with a lot, this time too. But in terms of using the available resources, everyone was satisfied that they did the best they could make out of the situation.

Resuscitation will never be easy, but that is the precise reason we need to make it as orderly as possible. People who develop protocols and policies are doing their part. We, at Beltar, tried to do ours.

Cite this article as: Carmina Shrestha, Nepal, "Rubik’s Cubing an Emergency Room," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, November 29, 2019, https://iem-student.org/2019/11/29/rubiks-cubing-an-emergency-room/, date accessed: November 24, 2020

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