Finger thoracostomy in patients with chest trauma performed by paramedics on a helicopter emergency medical service

Liam Hannon, Toby St Clair, Karen Smith, Mark Fitzgerald, Biswadev Mitra, Alexander Olaussen, John Moloney, George Braitberg, Rodney Judson, Warwick Teague, Nuala Quinn, Yesul Kim, Stephen Bernard

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14 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: To determine the frequency of finger thoracostomy performed by intensive care flight paramedics after the introduction of a training programme in this procedure and complications of the procedure that were diagnosed after hospital arrival. Methods: This was a retrospective cohort study of adult and paediatric trauma patients undergoing finger thoracostomy performed by paramedics on a helicopter emergency medical service between June 2015 and May 2018. Hospital data were obtained through a manual search of the medical records at each of the three receiving major trauma services. Additional data were sourced from the Victorian State Trauma Registry. Results: The final analysis included 103 cases, of which 73.8% underwent bilateral procedures with a total of 179 finger thoracostomies performed. The mean age of patients was 42.8 (standard deviation 21.4) years and 73.8% were male. Motor vehicle collision was the most common mechanism of injury accounting for 54.4% of cases. The median Injury Severity Score was 41 (interquartile range 29–54). There were 30 patients who died pre-hospital, with most (n = 25) having finger thoracostomy performed in the setting of a traumatic cardiac arrest. A supine chest X-ray was performed prior to intercostal catheter insertion in 38 of 73 patients arriving at hospital; of these, none demonstrated a tension pneumothorax. There were three cases of potential complications related to the finger thoracostomy. Conclusion: Finger thoracostomy was frequently performed by intensive care flight paramedics. It was associated with a low rate of major complications and given the deficiencies of needle thoracostomy, should be the preferred approach for chest decompression.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)650-656
Number of pages7
JournalEMA - Emergency Medicine Australasia
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2020


  • air ambulance
  • helicopter emergency medical service
  • paramedics
  • thoracostomy

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