Original Research Article| Volume 224, ISSUE 6, P1460-1463, December 2022

Prehospital decompression of tension pneumothorax: Have we moved the needle?

Published:September 23, 2022DOI:


      • Needle thoracostomy, continues to be associated with low success rates and poor patient selection.
      • ATLS curriculum and EMS protocols were changed in 2018 with the goal of improving needle thoracostomy techniques and patient selection.
      • Technique has improved following those changes, however, success rates and patient selection have not improved.



      Needle thoracostomy (NT) is the first-line intervention for tension pneumothorax in the prehospital setting. This study examined the effect of ATLS curriculum and EMS protocol changes on patient selection and successful performance of the procedure.


      This is a retrospective chart review of all patients presenting to a Level One Trauma Center from 2015 to 2020 after undergoing prehospital NT.


      Lateral NT placement increased significantly from 5.1% to 38.9%. Proper patient selection, defined as presence decompensated shock, respiratory distress, and diminished breath sounds increased from 23.1% to 27.8%. There was no difference in radiographic confirmation of the catheter in the pleural space. Iatrogenic injury rates decreased slightly from 28.2% to 16.7%.


      Protocol and curriculum changes have fallen short in yielding improved NT success rates or patient selection. Continued development of EMS education on the performance of NT is indicated.


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