Are physician assistant and patient airway assessments reliable compared to anesthesiologist assessments in detecting difficult airways in general surgical patients?
Perioperative Medicine, November 2017
Erin Payne, Jacqueline Ragheb, Elizabeth S. Jewell, Betsy P. Huang, Angela M. Bailey, Laura M. Fritsch, Milo Engoren
Airway management remains one of the most important responsibilities of anesthesiologists. Prediction of difficult airway allows time for proper selection of equipment, technique, and personnel experienced in managing patients with difficult airway. Face to face preoperative anesthesia interviews are difficult to conduct as they necessitate patients traveling to the clinics, and, in practice, are usually conducted in the morning of the procedure by the anesthesiologist, when identification of predictors of difficult intubation may lead to schedule delays or case cancelations. We hypothesized that an airway assessment tool could be used by patients or physician assistants to accurately assess their airways. We administered an airway assessment tool, which had been constructed in consultation with a psychometrician and revised after non-medical layperson feedback, to 215 patients presenting to the preoperative clinic for evaluation. Separately, patients had the airway exam performed by a physician assistant and an anesthesiologist. Agreement was compared using kappa. We found good agreement between observers only on "can you put three fingers in your mouth?" (three-way kappa = .733, p < 0.001) and poor agreement on Mallampati classification (three-way kappa = .195, p < 0.001) and "Can you fit three fingers between your chin and your Adam's Apple?" (three-way kappa = .216, p < 0.001). The agreements for the other questions were mostly fair. Agreements between patients and anesthesiologists were similar to those between physician assistants and anesthesiologists. Neither the patients' self-assessments nor the physician assistants' assessments were adequate to substitute for the anesthesiologists' airway assessments.
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