This article is one of ten reviews selected from the Annual Update in Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine 2015 and co-published as a series in Critical Care. Other articles in the series can be found online at http://ccforum.com/series/annualupdate2015. Further information about the Annual Update in Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine is available from http://www.springer.com/series/8901.
Prehospital airway management is a key component of emergency responders and remains an important task of Emergency Medical Service (EMS) systems worldwide. The most advanced airway management techniques involving placement of oropharyngeal airways such as the Laryngeal Mask Airway or endotracheal tube. Endotracheal tube placement success is a common measure of out-of-hospital airway management quality. Regional variation in regard to training, education, and procedural exposure may be the major contributor to the findings in success and patient outcome. In studies demonstrating poor outcomes related to prehospital-attempted endotracheal intubation (ETI), both training and skill level of the provider are usually often low. Research supports a relationship between the number of intubation experiences and ETI success. National standards for certification of emergency medicine provider are in general too low to guarantee good success rate in emergency airway management by paramedics and physicians. Some paramedic training programs require more intense airway training above the national standard and some EMS systems in Europe staff their system with anesthesia providers instead. ETI remains the cornerstone of definitive prehospital airway management, However, ETI is not without risk and outcomes data remains controversial. Many systems may benefit from more input and guidance by the anesthesia department, which have higher volumes of airway management procedures and extensive training and experience not just with training of airway management but also with different airway management techniques and adjuncts.