Must-Read Acute Care Medicine Articles From 2022

Amal Mattu, MD


February 10, 2023

When 2022 began, we started seeing some light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel. Vaccines were widely available, and even with new variants of the virus still occasionally emerging, the rates of severe morbidity and mortality appeared to be decreasing.

Expectedly, journals appeared to start moving more toward mainstream topics and publications rather than what seemed like a major focus on COVID-19 publications. The resulting literature was fantastic. This past year brought some outstanding publications related to emergency medicine that are practice-changers.

Several of those topics were discussed in a prior Medscape Emergency Medicine Viewpoint, and many more of the research advances of 2022 will be discussed in the near future. However, in this Viewpoint, I would like to present my annual review of my three "must-read" articles of the past year.

As in past years, I am choosing reviews of the literature rather than original research articles (which, all too often, become outdated or debunked within a few years). I choose these articles in the hopes that readers will not simply settle for my brief reviews of the key points but instead will feel compelled to download and read the entire articles. These publications address common conditions and quandaries we face in the daily practice of emergency medicine and are practice-changing.

Myocardial Dysfunction After Cardiac Arrest: Tips and Pitfalls

The management of post–cardiac arrest patients remains a hot topic in the resuscitation literature as we continue to understand that the immediate post-arrest period is critical to patient outcome.

Ortuno and colleagues reviewed the current literature on post-arrest care and wrote an outstanding summary of how to optimally care for these patients. More specifically, they focused on post-arrest patients who demonstrate continued shock, or "post–cardiac arrest myocardial dysfunction" (PCAMD).

They propose three mechanisms for the pathogenesis of PCAMD:

  1. Ischemia reperfusion phenomenon;

  2. Systemic inflammatory response; and

  3. Increased catecholamine release.

I will skip through the details of the pathophysiology that they describe in the article, but I certainly do recommend that everyone review their descriptions.

Management of these patients begins with a good hemodynamic assessment, which includes clinical markers of perfusion (blood pressure, capillary refill), ECG, and point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS). If the initial assessment reveals an obvious cause of the cardiac arrest (eg, massive pulmonary embolism, myocardial infarction, pericardial tamponade), then the underlying cause should be treated expeditiously.

In the absence of an obvious treatable cause of the shock, the fluid status and cardiac function should be addressed with POCUS. If the patient is hypovolemic, intravenous fluids should be administered. If the fluid status is adequate, POCUS should be used to estimate the patient's ventricular function. If the ventricle appears to be hyperdynamic with good contractility, shock should be treated with norepinephrine. On the other hand, if the ventricle is hypodynamic, dobutamine should be substituted for norepinephrine or, more often, added to norepinephrine.

The above represents a simplified summary of the critical points, but the authors do delve into further detail and also discuss some other options for therapies, including steroids, coronary revascularization, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, and so on. The review is very thoughtful, thorough, and definitely worth a full read.

Top Myths of Diagnosis and Management of Infectious Diseases in Hospital Medicine

Most, if not all of us in medicine, have heard the saying that 50% of what we learn in medical school (or residency) will turn out to be wrong. I certainly believe in this concept and consequently, like many of you, I enjoy reading about myths and misconceptions that we have been taught. With that in mind, I have to say that I love this article because it seems to have been written specifically to address what I was taught!

This author group, consisting mostly of clinical PharmDs who are experts in antibiotic use, provide us with an evidence-based discussion of myths and pitfalls in how antibiotics are often used in current clinical practice. The authors review their top 10 myths involving the use of antibiotics in treating infections in the hospital setting. A few of these relate more to the inpatient setting, but here are my favorite emergency department (ED)–related myths that they address:

  • "Antibiotics do no harm." The authors address the risk-benefit of antibiotics based on assumed vs confirmed infections, including a brief discussion of adverse drug effects.

  • "Antibiotic durations of 7, 14, or 21 days are typically necessary." The authors address appropriate duration of antibiotic use and the fact that unnecessarily long durations of use can lead to resistance. They also provide reassurance that some infections can be treated with quite short durations of antibiotics.

  • "If one drug is good, two (or more!) is better." The use of multiple antibiotics, often with overlapping bacterial coverage, is rampant in medicine and further increases the risk for adverse drug effects and resistance.

  • "Oral antibiotics are not as good as intravenous antibiotics for hospitalized patients." This is definitely a myth that I learned. I recall being taught by many senior physicians that anyone sick enough for admission should be treated with intravenous antibiotics. As it turns out, absorption and effectiveness of most oral antibiotics is just as good as intravenous antibiotics, and the oral formulations are often safer.

  • "A history of a penicillin allergy means the patient can never receive a beta-lactam antibiotic." This is a myth that was debunked quite a few years ago, but it seems that many clinicians still need a reminder.

The authors included five more myths that are worth the read. This is an article that needs to be disseminated among all hospital clinicians.

Guidelines for Low-Risk, Recurrent Abdominal Pain in the Emergency Department

The Society for Academic Emergency Medicine (SAEM) recently initiated a program focused on creating evidence-based approaches to challenging chief complaints and presentations in the emergency department (ED). In 2021, they published an approach to managing patients with recurrent, low-risk chest pain in the ED. This past year, they published their second guideline, focused on the management of patients with low-risk, recurrent abdominal pain in the ED.

Recurrent low-risk abdominal pain is a common and vexing presentation to EDs around the world, and there is little prior published guidance. Do all of these patients need repeat imaging? How do we manage their pain? Are there nonabdominal conditions that should be considered?

Broder and colleagues did a fantastic review of the current literature and, on behalf of SAEM, have provided a rational approach to optimal management of these patients. The four major questions they addressed, with brief summaries of their recommendations, are:

  • Should adult ED patients with low-risk, recurrent and previously undifferentiated abdominal pain receive a repeat CT abdomen-pelvis (CTAP) after a negative CTAP within the past 12 months? This is a typical question that we all ponder when managing these patients. Unfortunately, the writing group found insufficient evidence to definitively identify populations in whom CTAP was recommended vs could be safely withheld. It is a bit disappointing that there is no definite answer to the question. On the other hand, it is reassuring to know that the world's best evidence essentially says that it is perfectly appropriate to use your own good clinical judgment.

  • Should adult ED patients with low-risk, recurrent, and previously undifferentiated abdominal pain with a negative CTAP receive additional imaging with abdominal ultrasound? In this case, the writing group found enough evidence, though low-level, to suggest against routine ultrasound in the absence of concern specifically for pelvic or hepatobiliary pathology. Like most tests, ultrasound is best used when there are specific concerns rather than being used in an undifferentiated fashion.

  • Should adult ED patients with low-risk, recurrent, and previously undifferentiated abdominal pain receive screening for depression/anxiety? The writing group found enough evidence, though low-level again, to suggest that screening for depression and/or anxiety be performed during the ED evaluation. This could lead to successful therapy for the abdominal pain.

  • Should adult ED patients with low-risk, recurrent, and previously undifferentiated abdominal pain receive nonopioid and/or nonpharmacologic analgesics? The writing group found little evidence to suggest for or against these analgesics, but they made a consensus recommendation suggesting an opioid-minimizing strategy for pain control.

Although the final recommendations of the writing group were not definitive or based on the strongest level of evidence, I find it helpful to have this guidance, nevertheless, on behalf of a major national organization. I also find it helpful to know that even with the best evidence available, optimal patient care will often boil down to physician experience and gestalt. I should also add that the overall article is chock-full of pearls and helpful information that will further inform the readers' decisions, and so the full version is definitely worth the read.

In Summary

There you have it — my three favorite practice-changing articles of 2022. Although I have tried to provide key points here, the full discussions of those key points in the published articles will provide a great deal more education than I can offer in this brief write-up, and so I strongly encourage everyone to read the full versions. Please be sure to include in the comments section your own pick for favorite or must-read articles from the past year.

Amal Mattu, MD, is a professor, vice chair of education, and co-director of the emergency cardiology fellowship in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.

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