A new breed, and new terminology
Scott Weingart MD and colleagues have published a discussion paper  outlining the role of emergency physicians who have completed additional critical care training – ED intensivists – and the potential benefits these individuals might bring to patients, emergency departments, and their emergency physician colleagues.
The paper also introduces a glossary of new terms which might help clarify future discussion of this practice area:
Emergency medicine critical care
a subspecialty of emergency medicine dealing with the care of the critically ill both in the ED and in the rest of the hospital
a physician who has completed a residency in emergency medicine and a fellowship in critical care
ED critical care
emergency medicine critical care practiced specifically in the ED
ED intensivist (EDI)
EPIs who practice ED critical care as a portion of their clinical time
EPs who have additional knowledge, training, and interest in the care of the critically ill patient
a unit within an ED with the same or similar staffing, monitoring, and capability for therapies as an ICU
a hybrid resuscitation area and EDICU allowing a department to adopt the ED intensive care model with minimal cost and no changes to the physical plant
Potential benefits of ED-intensivists – and associated adequately staffed areas within ED that facilitate ongoing critical care delivery – include:
Full intensive care provided to patients unable to be moved to ICU (usually due to bed unavailability)
Development of protocols and care pathways that allow other EPs to deliver enhanced critical care
Gaining of advanced skills for ED nurses
Removal of need for ICU bed for conditions that can be improved in a few hours (eg. some overdoses, DKA, acute pulmonary oedema)
Cost saving due to decreased ICU stay (if the above ‘short term critical care’ patients are admitted to ICU, ward bed unavailability can make it difficult to discharge them from ICU)
Additional airway skills in ED (and training around that)
Improved invasive and non-invasive ventilatory management (and training) in ED
Gaining of ED experience in ventilator weaning and extubation
Gaining of ED experience in haemodynamic monitoring, vasoactive support, and even mechanical circulatory support (balloon pumps and ECMO)
Improved sepsis care
Improved post-cardiac arrest care
Improved trauma management
Greater exposure to invasive procedures
Improved end of life care
Better critical care exposure for trainees
Improved ED-ICU communication and shared protocols
Scott’s whole mission is about bringing ‘upstairs care downstairs’, and educating others to do that, at which he is a true master. No doubt he will singlehandedly have inspired a large cohort of emergency physicians to train in critical care. Examples of ED intensivists and their roles are listed here on the EMCrit site.
Emergency physician intensivists in the Old Country
As an ‘ED-intensivist’ myself, I do believe many of those advantages can be realised. In the UK when I originally trained in both EM and ICM there was a small number of similarly trained individuals and we collectively called ourselves ‘EPIC’ – ‘Emergency Physicians in Intensive Care’.
Our shared energy and enthusiasm led to a dedicated conference in 2011 and it’s possible that our proselytizing combined with publications like Terry Brown’s ‘Emergency physicians in critical care: a consultant’s experience‘ may have made some small contribution to the subsequent explosion in interest in dual accreditation in EM & ICM in the UK.
When I moved to Australia in 2008 I was excited to hear that emergency docs now made up the largest proportion of dual trained new intensivists. When I asked a leading member of this group whether he saw any role for an ‘EPIC’ community in Australia I was surprised and disappointed with the response:
‘Nice idea but I don’t see the point. I can’t think of anyone who dual trained who’s still working in emergency medicine’
So it seems those who were in the best position to bring upstairs care downstairs had all disappeared upstairs. Many will admit it’s not just because they find critical care more interesting than emergency medicine; the combination of a significantly higher income (through private practice) with better working conditions plays a significant role.
There are other opportunities in Australia for emergency physicians to practice critical care. Prehospital & retrieval medicine services undertake interhospital critical care transport of patients from small and often remote facilities where all of the first few hours of intensive care must be delivered by retrieval teams in often challenging environments with limited personnel and equipment. In some cases it’s these retrieval physicians who are able to fulfil the role of ED-intensivist in their own EDs.
Integrated critical care models and SuperDoctors
Another Australian example is the ‘integrated critical care’ model pioneered in some regional centres in rural New South Wales where emergency physicians with critical care training aim to provide seamless care to patients in the prehospital, ED, ICU and ward environments. I was lucky enough to do some locum shifts in one of these centres – Tamworth – where the service is delivered by some of the most highly skilled and dedicated physicians I’ve ever met. Check out their registrar job ad for a flavour of their work. This model was described in a 2003 publication by my Sydney HEMS colleague Craig Hore which lists its features as follows:
Features of integrated critical care
Multiskilled critical-care specialists trained and experienced in the various aspects of critical care in rural hospitals.
Multidisciplinary critical-care teams that provide:
A more seamless interface between the various phases of critical care and between its respective disciplines;
A rapid response to, and a continuum of care for, critically ill and injured patients;
Clinical leadership in evaluating and managing critically ill and injured patients, both in the hospital (including the emergency department, critical-care unit and hospital wards) and in the community (including retrievals, and support for ambulance crews, peripheral hospitals and general practitioners); and
Training of medical students, medical staff, nursing staff and allied health professionals to recognise and provide a systematic approach to critical illness and injury.
Team members who are empowered to work beyond perceived traditional boundaries, but within the realms of their clinical expertise and credentials, to enable the best use of available resources.
So it appears the benefits to patients, hospitals, and team skills of ED-intensivists have been espoused for some years in the Anglo-Australian setting, and different practice models evolve to best serve local need.
Resuscitating the resuscitationists
Is it time to revive EPIC? I chased up my UK buddies who co-founded it, and here are extracts from their replies (note ‘CCT’ refers to certificate of completion of training – the UK equivalent of specialist accreditation or board certification):
“Interesting to hear that most Aussies leave EM, my experience of [our regional] trainees is the opposite; of 4 EM / ITU dual CCT over last 5 years, I’m the only one still doing a little bit of CCM, the rest have all ended up in full time EM posts, despite all doing periods of locum consultant work in CCM. (Although, after last 4 winter months of UK EM, I’m beginning to appreciate that I backed the wrong horse! (In the wrong country!!))”
“Having recently dropped ICU/ED 40/60 mix for full time ED i think those gravitating to ICU have a point – an error on my part. The ED represents much more intense work with fewer staff and a work load that far far exceeds resources. As such time to deliver care falls and skills with it. I have just spend 5 weeks [overseas]. I spent time with several directors who pointed out they no longer look to the UK for high quality ED docs as they manage depts as opposed to caring for patients, lack critical care skills and lack the experience to review and manage patients as they improve or deteriorate – a sad state of affairs indeed.”
“I would like to see EPIC back in force and do see an increasing role. around 1 in 4 of our trainees here are looking to joint qualify and we have 3 in their last 2 years. two are currently looking for posts but struggling to find any with a 50-50 mix and are been told to choose one or the other both by prospective ED and ICU employers.”
“I am concerned that dual trained folk here will, like in Australia gravitate to ICU. Whether that is a reflection of where EM is currently in the UK or a personal reflection I’m not sure. Where as I still have days in the ED where I come home and think ‘best job in the world’ these are overshadowed by the stresses of trying to deliver quality care in a failing system. My impression is that urgent care in the UK may well implode soon as ever decreasing workforce meets an over increasing work load. Inevitable closures of units will speed up this process. I currently have a 50/50 ICM/ED job split but that might change to become more ICU.”
“The ED/ICU community in the UK is growing and it wlll be interesting to see the effect of the ICM CCT has on this. There is sadly still a paucity of ED/ICU jobs in the UK and we probably missed a trick with the trauma centres.”
“It would be great to re-create EPIC to make it a real player for the future.”
So it appears emergency physician intensivists are growing in number, but employment prospects in both specialties are not guaranteed. If we are to recruit them to work as ED intensivists (ie. providing critical care in the ED) we have a challenge in making such posts attractive and sustainable. Emergency medicine in the UK is suffering at the moment, and we’ll have to work hard to stop those who are dual trained from disappearing upstairs.
Your comments on this are invited. Should there be more critical care- trained EPs? Shouldn’t ALL EPs have the right critical care skills to manage the first few hours of critical care? Can you call yourself an emergency physician and not be a ‘resuscitationist’? Where do retrievalists fit into this spectrum? How do we help motivate those who are dual trained to stay in the ED for some of their time? Is there a need for a body like EPIC to guide those who are considering dual training, and to provide recommendations to employers and physicians on models of care and job planning? I would love to get more of an international perspective on this issue.
1. ED intensivists and ED intensive care units
Am J Emerg Med. 2013 Mar;31(3):617-20
Full text link available from here
2. Emergency physicians in critical care: a consultant’s experience
Emerg Med J. 2004 Mar;21(2):145-8
Full text link available from here
There is a growing interest in the interface between emergency medicine and critical care medicine. Previous articles in this journal have looked at the opportunities and advantages of training in critical care medicine for emergency medicine trainees. In the UK there are a small number of emergency physicians who also have a commitment to critical care medicine. This article describes a personal experience of such a job, looking at the advantages and disadvantages. Depending upon future developments in the role of emergency medicine in the UK, together with the proposed expansion in critical care medicine, such posts may become more common.
3. Integrated critical care: an approach to specialist cover for critical care in the rural setting
Med J Aust. 2003 Jul 21;179(2):95-7
Critical care encompasses elements of emergency medicine, anaesthesia, intensive care, acute internal medicine, postsurgical care, trauma management, and retrieval. In metropolitan teaching hospitals these elements are often distinct, with individual specialists providing discrete services. This may not be possible in rural centres, where specialist numbers are smaller and recruitment and retention more difficult. Multidisciplinary integrated critical care, using existing resources, has developed in some rural centres as a more relevant approach in this setting. The concept of developing a specialty of integrated critical-care medicine is worthy of further exploration.