Friday, May 31, 2013

Over Easy? Trials of Prone Positioning in ARDS

Published May 20 in the  NEJM to coincide with the ATS meeting is the (latest) Guerin et al study of Prone Positioning in ARDS.  The editorialist was impressed.  He thinks that we should start proning patients similar to those in the study.  Indeed, the study results are impressive:  a 16.8% absolute reduction in mortality between the study groups with a corresponding P-value of less than 0.001.  But before we switch our tastes from sunny side up to over easy (or in some cases, over hard - referred to as the "turn of death" in ICU vernacular) we should consider some general principles as well as about a decade of other studies of prone positioning in ARDS.

First, a general principle:  regression to the mean.  Few, if any, therapies in critical care (or in medicine in general) confer a mortality benefit this large.  I refer the reader (again) to our study of delta inflation which tabulated over 30 critical care trials in the top 5 medical journals over 10 years and showed that few critical care trials show mortality deltas (absolute mortality differences) greater than 10%.   Almost all those that do are later refuted.  Indeed it was our conclusion that searching for deltas greater than or equal to 10% is akin to a fool's errand, so unlikely is the probability of finding such a difference.  Jimmy T. Sylvester, my attending at JHH in late 2001 had already recognized this.  When the now infamous sentinel trail of intensive insulin therapy (IIT) was published, we discussed it at our ICU pre-rounds lecture and he said something like "Either these data are faked, or this is revolutionary."  We now know that there was no revolution (although many ICUs continue to practice as if there had been one).  He could have just as easily said that this is an anomaly that will regress to the mean, that there is inherent bias in this study, or that "trials stopped early for benefit...."

Monday, May 20, 2013

It All Hinges on the Premises: Prophylactic Platelet Transfusion in Hematologic Malignancy

A quick update before I proceed with the current post:  The Institute of Medicine has met and they agree with me that sodium restriction is for the birds.  (Click here for a New York Times summary article.)  In other news, the oh-so-natural Omega-3 fatty acid panacea did not improve cardiovascular outcomes as reported in the NEJM on May 9th, 2013.

An article by the TOPPS investigators in the May 9th NEJM is very useful to remind us not to believe everything we read, to always check our premises, and that some data are so dependent on the perspective from which they're interpreted or the method or stipulations of analysis that they can be used to support just about any viewpoint.

The authors sought to determine if a strategy of withholding prophylactic platelet transfusions for platelet counts below 10,000 in patients with hematologic malignancy was non-inferior to giving prophylactic platelet transfusions.  I like this idea, because I like "less is more" and I think the body is basically antifragile.  But non-inferior how?  And what do we mean by non-inferior in this trial?