The perks of PERC

The really worrying question sometimes arises (or depending on your luck, most times arises) while you are in an ED, and you see a patient who comes in with ‘some chest pain’ that’s maybe a little pleuritic in nature, but pleuritic chest pain could result from a punch to the chest, or if you cough too hard or too long (I unfortunately speak from experience!) and you don’t know what to do and someone’s already done a D-Dimer on the patient’s initial bloods as they were triaged, before you saw them, if you are lucky enough to work in a department as great as ours (or unlucky, depending on how you view the over-testing of D-Dimers!) – I have been handed the most amazing tool: the PERC score, or the Pulmonary Embolism Rule-out Criteria. For those of you already aware of the existence of such a magic wand – bravissimo and kudos to you, and no need to read on any further. For the ones like me who until very recently hadn’t even heard of it, please proceed further.

Patients who present with clinically low risk for development of a PE can be subjected to the PERC. This is a pre-test probability type situation, whereby you assess a patient based on clinical parameters (which you obviously already do!) but you mentally check them off a list of specific parameters, and if they meet all 8 (yes EIGHT!) criteria, then you can safely say they do not need further assessment RE:pulmonary embolism, D-dimers, CTPA route etc. This creates a warm and fuzzy feeling in me, because almost every patient in the past 3 years of practising emergency medicine in the UK that presents even remotely with pleuritic sounding chest pain, regardless of whether they have a clinical indication or not, automatically had a D-dimer, and, God forbid, should they have an ever-so-slightly-raised D-dimer level, they were referred to the acute medical team faster than you could say enoxaparin. These were then possibly unnecesarily given doses of enoxaparin, until the gold standard rule-out test could be performed, which is the CT PA (CT pulmonary angiography). That’s just the way things worked, because a positive D-dimer can indicated possible pulmonary embolism, but it needs to be taken with the complete clinical picture, and a (very large) grain of salt. D-dimers can, unfortunately or fortunately, be raised in a number of different situations, e.g an underlying active malignancy (which gives the double whammy of raising your chances of getting a PE in the first place), an infection anywhere in the body, certain medications and inflammatory medical conditions.  This lead to over treatment of many patients with anticoagulants till the CTPA was performed to finally confirm the existence or absence of the offending clot. Things may have changed for the better with the PERC, though.

The parameters you base your PERC score on are Age (< 50 years), O2 sats (greater than or equal to 95%), Heart Rate (less than 100 BPM), Absence of Hemoptysis, Absence of Oestrogen usage (Contraceptive pills), Absence of history of surgery/trauma requiring hospitalisation/immobilisation within past 4 weeks, Absence of lower limb swelling (unilateral), and absence of prior personal history of clots/emboli/thrombi.

These parameters and this score are widely used now and available as calculator/apps on most phones.

So the way I understand is, low-risk patients meeting the PERC score criteria need not be further assessed (even if they have had a D-dimer done that’s slightly raised, you can ignore it because the pre-test probability was extremely low). Low-risk patients not meeting the PERC criteria may then go on to be assessed on the D-dimer route, and the high risk patients go directly to CTPA without faffing around with PERCs and WELLS and GENEVAs.

Good luck, and happy PERC-ing!

My PLAB experience (a VERY long time coming!)

Very recently, I was asked by one of my friends if I could share my experience about the PLAB exams, as guidance for prospective candidates. Having taken the exams quite a while back (2014!) I found it hard to address the issue, so they sent me a questionnaire to make things easier to explain to someone not very familiar with the way forward when contemplating taking the PLAB exams. I am sharing the whole Q&A session here (with a few minor adjustments/deletions with the author’s permission). Thank you @Sadaf Taymor ( for the opportunity to express myself and to share an important experience with everyone!

The curious case of PLAB (09/10/2017)

What is the PLAB exam and how does it help in initiating a medical career in UK?
There are many routes of entry into the UK for doctors who wish to train here. The easiest and most common one is to take the PLAB  (or Professional and Linguistics Assessment Board) exam and become GMC certified. Let me tell you a bit about this – basically any country that you work in has their own authority that confirms that you are good to practice in that country. For Pakistan, that authority is the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council, for the UK it is the General Medical council. Passing BOTH PLAB 1&2 gets you the license for the GMC to practice. After you get those out of the way and are certified then you are basically allowed to practice in the UK. That’s what people usually do.
The PLAB exams are the basic, entrance-level exams. You could potentially also get GMC certified by taking any of the more advanced membership exams for any of the Royal Colleges (but more about that at a later juncture – let’s keep this simple!)
The bottom line is you can not practice medicine in the UK without being GMC certified, and the easiest and most common route of entry to get that is to take the PLAB exams.
What kind of a format does this exam follow and what time limit does the candidate have for the exam
The PLAB has 2 parts – both are compulsory to pass individually. The first part is theoretical, and is based on the multiple choice questions format (or should I say, the single best answer format). You are given three hours to answer 200 questions. I have often heard people lament that the time is not enough, but I think it is doable. It may be difficult if you are not used to such a format, but in this field, better get used to this format, because later exams are also going to be in the same manner, same time frame (possibly even worse!)
The second part is interactive and consists of multiple stations. It is OSCE-based format, where each candidate rotates in 14 stations, each station assessing a different skill. Examples of such interactive sessions include taking a proper history, examining certain system, counselling a patient about something, and so on.
You can attempt the PLAB 1 as many times as you wish. Once you pass it, you have three years to pass the second part, failing which you will have to take the PLAB 1 again. You have 4 maximum attempts to take the PLAB 2.
Does the test have a certain validity?
Once you pass both parts of the exam and are GMC certified, you do not have to retake it again. You just have to keep up to date your assessments and your competence and you get re-validated automatically every 5 years.
 Any specific tips on cracking the test?
For the first part, I would advise go back to your roots, back to the basics. The whole syllabus is available on the GMC/PLAB websites. Try to practice as many questions as you can, get your tempo going, get used to this format before you take the exam. 2-3 months of prep should be enough.
For the second part, it can only be taken in the UK so make sure you have everything sorted before you travel for the exam. There are course available which guide and prepare and help practice the various stations that may come in the exam. These preparatory courses are much recommended before you take the PLAB 2 (if you have never worked in the UK or similar circumstances before).

Another day, another training…

Attended another training/teaching day sponsored/arranged by the deanery – was a very, VERY useful and informative day – and though it dragged on for hours, it was very interesting and explained quite a few things that I had not known previously – gist of the major salient points of each of the talks are listed below – may expand on 1 or more of these topics in the near future – so inspiring!

There were 4 speakers

PUBLIC HEALTH PROMOTION – how to explore facets of public health while in ED, because most people interact with someone in the ED, and that may be the only point of medical contact they have had up until that point.
smoking cessation, weight loss, exercise, pre-diabetes identification –
screening programs are fixed, inflexible , protocoled care, applied across a particular age group- safeguarding, frailty, VTE, dementia screening, hypertension, alcohol issues, obesity, domestic violence, smoking

case scenario of overweight person presents with orthopaedic problems, upon discharge do you speak to them about their weight? as an ED physician

case scenario of unwell child who has never been vaccinated – what will you do? How do you approach the subject with the parent, or do you even approach it at all?

case scenario of alcoholic patient with head injury – would you address the alcohol issue? (unit is 8 gm or 10 ml) 25 in whiskey, 10 in wine and 40 in spirigel
alcohol problems discussion
(having withdrawal symptoms when not drinking is being dependant on alcohol)
who should you be screening for problem drinking – selected presentations
how do you ask for alcohol intake?- use PAT scale – CAGE questions are useful in establish alcohol related problems.
important because intervention is helpful

as doctors/physicians it is our ethical duty to reduce injury and illness, wherever we interact with patients.
we tend to have more interaction with the general public
you are more likely to see violence/injuries than the police – some studies show more than 3 times!
how can you help as doctors? injury survielance, mandatory reporting, better design, improve treatment, collate data and improve conditions – location of assault, date/time of assault, weapon, age
is anonymous,
crime rates went down because of data collected due to targeted policing
what are barriers to implementation? – police expectations, IT issues, governance, receptionist, leads
pitfalls – mission creep, fatigue, silos
conclusion? violent injury surveillance and control is effective in reducing violence. implementation can be challenging

QI (Quality Improvement)
audits are important but rarely work
why do they fail? – tick box exercise, temporary staff, lack of feedback, career advancement a priority rather than care advancement, lack of collective responsibility (if your rotation ends, the audit ends with you, no continuity)
has now become quality assurance rather than improvement. “maintaining/meeting set standards” rather than “improving the standards”
RCEM guide to QI is the QI bible.
do less, do it better
choose a standard to improve:is it important?, is it fundamental?, is it fixable?
talk to the stakeholders (nursing staff, frontline staff, triage, juniors, etc), ask them why this is not happening – how to improve conditions?
measure the standard
intervene to implement a change, and then re-measure after a suitable timeframe.
establish or convey a sense of crisis – reiterate how important/imperative this measurement is.
rapid cycle

definition of ACS
reiteration of importance of history – onset and character
repeat ecg, compare with previous
do not delay treatment waiting for biomarkers in “cardiac-sounding” chest pain.
consider bedside imaging if hemodynamic instability
escalate appropriately, consider involvement of tertiary care
dissection a differential? CT aorta stat (discussion about d dimer as useful in this scenario – some people say a negative d dimer rules out a dissection – research shows that is not the case)
management – analgesia+dual antiplatelet therapy, GP2B3AI, antihypertensives (b blockers) ACEI. statin, REGARDLESS OFWHETHER AN INTERVENTION TAKES PLACE LATER ON OR NOT, GIVE THE MEDICAL TREATMENT. if already on aspirin, 300 or 225 of aspirin either way doesn’t matter, 600 of clopidogrel and 80 of tigacrelor (not to use if warfarinized – MAKE SURE INR IS THERAPEUTIC)
immediate management – angio +/- PCI (for STEMI within window, ongoing symptoms, cariogenic shock, for NSTEMI – hemodynamic instability, ongoing schema or shock, IF REFRACTORY TO INITIAL MEDICAL THERAPY)
high risk/labile/recurrent schema – urgent angio
all others get routine angio
12 hours stemi – def PPCI, greater than 12 hours – if symptoms, PPCI, greater than 48 hours – no PPCI.
<30 mins door in door out in non pic centers. <60 mins door to wire crossing in PCI centre. and LBBB/RBBB considered equally. no o2 if >90 sats on RA.
consider CPAP, IF DISTRESS. iv amiodarone for AF, Look for hyperglycaemic states, MRA if CF.

if unable to decide if LBBB is new or old, compare to previous but if none available to compare, look at the patient. vast majority are not acute, unless they’re in cariogenic shock.


may be a symptom of sepsis – does not mean primary focus is gastrointestinal- particularly in the elderly
rotavirus most common in children – vaccine now available, rotarix at 8 and 12 weeks, seasonal
COD – dehydration/acidosis
use dioralyte instead of pure water for replacement. diluted juice.
norovirus and c.difficile has to be reported.
electrolyte disturbances – hypo/hypernatremia, acidosis, acidosis, hypoklemia (3-3.5: oral replacement or 20/1000 ml saline over 2-3 hours; 2.5-3: 40/litre over 4-6 hours; <2.5 or with ecg changes at any low level such as prolonged QTC, flat t waves at risk of arrhythmia; <1.5 will be paralysed, muscular weakness, apneoic. ECG-CARDIAC MONITOR-CONSIDER RESUS
discussion about hyponatremia and its management


multiple cases discussed and shown, along with rhythm strips, interactive 1 hour session with responses from the audience tailoring the talk. VERY interesting.

Last shift as an ST1 – bittersweet to say the least

So for ACCS we have 6 monthly rotations for the first 2 years, and tomorrow I go for my last shift as part of my A&E rotation (yay, yes I made it to the end!) AND  it will be my last ever shift as a year 1 trainee (or ST1) – even more yay!

This year has been wonderful – I got to know the slightly different other side of the coin as an acute medicine doctor the first 6 months of this year, and got to see firsthand what happens when you refer a patient to the medical specialty: what they look for, how they assess them, what investigations do they do and what is there mindset – and I learnt there were things I could do while the patient was in ED as my patient, and I could tweak certain things and maybe request something that would help the acute medicine department deal with the patient and make an informed and safe decision about their medical care – and maybe stop them from being admitted in the first place! This last bit was especially a unique experience, trying to sort out a patient with the 4 hour time pressure, but sometimes you picked up a patient that usually would be referred to the medical specialty, but if you had the time in ED you could potentially start a treatment that may actually make them better before their 4 hours were up and you could end up sending them home rather than in-hospital – like for a second troponin or someone who is slightly tachycardia with a fever, treat them and re-evaluate, obviously if they still warrant it, get them admitted but if they improve and can continue treatment at home, then let them go into their own familiar surroundings (sometimes the best option for patients with dementia and other cognitive impairment) – and the it doesn’t go unappreciated by the medical team!

The next 6 months were truly wonderful – learning experience from the get go – and since emergency medicine is my chose poison, my specialty of interest, I really was looking forward to it – and it did not disappoint. I learnt so many new things, and not just about the medical bit of it, but about myself as well. I gained confidence. I passed an exam (again, yay!). I realised I was interested in paediatrics, with a possible PEM (paediatric emergency medicine) fellowship consideration seriously for the future). I realised it wasn’t JUST about the resus patients, the cardiac events and the rest pains and the low-GCS and the stabbed-in-the-groin and the 3 passenger trauma call  – those were the interesting and the adrenaline pumping stuff you think of when you think emergency medicine. But I also realised that on a day to day basis you may not even see any of those heart-pumping sort of cases, and may have to deal with accidental overdoses and dental pains (!!!) and minor injuries (oh how I loved the minor injuries – really loved learning there!) and the beautifully vague C?C or ‘Collapse query cause’ and an amazing amount of geriatric and elderly care cases. And I realised I had chosen the right field. Because you don’t just treat the stuff of legend – crack open a chest or put a tube into the chest or restore alignment of a broken or dislocated bone, but you also end up (mostly) sorting out the more mundane cases and they teach you patience and empathy and make you also realise that these cases are also equally important: passing a catheter may be considered a legendary feat by the patient who comes in with 15 hours of urinary retention, or the wrist brace you put on an elderly patient with a sprain may make a world of difference to an elderly patient who has been unable to sleep due to the pain. It is the sorting of these cases which some may consider to be ‘boring’ or ‘brander’ or ‘not exciting’ that is truly the bread and butter of the ED physician.

And now I stand at the cusp of transitioning from year 1 to year 2 – going onwards to a 6 month rotation in aesthetics followed by ITU for 6 months. Am I excited? Yes. Am I nervous? You bet! Why excited, you ask? because: new things to learn and do that I have never known/done before. Why nervous? Because…exactly the same reason! But I am certainly looking forward to airway skills and critical care assessment, and gaining more confidence by adding to my skills – I hope its not too steep of a learning curve! Onwards and upwards, eh?

(Also – no weekends or nights for the first three months in aesthetics, and Friday half day –  somebody pinch me! I might just die of excitement at the prospect of that routine after the A&E rota! So yeah, joy!)

Guest Blog Post by Dr. Hassan Alraee – “My MRCEM OSCE Experience”

This is our second guest blog post from esteemed colleague Dr. Hassan Alraee – Emergency Medicine Registrar (Ireland). I take no credit for the following text.

Dear Colleagues,
I am sharing my MRCEM OSCE experience with you guys as I realized while preparing for the exam there was not much guidance available online. The aim of this post is to familiarize everyone with what the exam entails and a few tips which may be helpful in your preparation for the OSCE.
This may not be a structured or typical guidance post, it may come out as a random collection of thoughts but I will try my best to note down everything that was helpful to me during the preparation for the OSCE.
First of all to be eligible to appear in the exam you need to have passed the FRCEM Primary exam, passing the FRCEM Intermediate SAQ exam is NOT one of the eligibility criteria. However, in my experience passing the FRCEM Intermediate SAQ exam gives you a baseline in theoretical knowledge that is required for the OSCE. So it would be ideal to attempt the exams in the sequence that has been set, i.e. Primary, Intermediate and OSCE.
Before beginning your preparation for the exam have a look at the MRCEM Information Pack available on the RCEM website. A list of study material that may be helpful includes;
1. MCEM Part C: 125 OSCE Stations by Kiran Somani
2. Mastering Emergency Medicine: A Practical Guide by Mathew Hall
3. Bromley Webinars
4. At least 1 (if not more) of the following courses; The London Clinical Course, The Bromley Course or the Manchester Course.
The exam itself feels like a daunting task during the preparation phase as it is completely different to the previous parts and reading books alone is not the best way to get through it. My advice would be to stick to one of the above mentioned books and go through it once. The next step would be to create a practice group which should comprise of at least 3 members. This would mean all 3 of you would be able to rotate through different roles during the practice sessions, i.e. The candidate, The actor and The examiner. In my humble opinion this practice group is the key to being successful in the exam. The final step would be to book one of the above mentioned courses. In order to maximize the courses you need to be fully prepared for the exam by the time you attend the course and treat it as a Mock Examination.
Each of the courses has their own pros and cons but all of them are helpful in preparing you for the OSCE.
Each OSCE comprises of 18 stations, 2 of which are rest stations. The exam does not test your theoretical knowledge to a great extent, the stations in the OSCE are designed to test various skills. Like all OSCE exams there is a fair degree of play acting and exaggeration of your daily practices is required. By this I mean that the examiner will only mark you on the actions you perform during the exam, so make sure you show every step and tick most boxes in the examiner’s checklist.
The basic outline of the stations encountered within the OSCE are;
1) There are 2 to 3 history taking stations, remember to complete the station by giving the patient a management plan based on the history.
2) A Systemic examination station (CVS, Respiratory, Abdominal, Cranial Nerve or Peripheral Vascular examination)
3) A Joint examination station (Hip, Shoulder, Knee, Back, C-spine or a limb examination)
4) A Breaking Bad News scenario
5) There are 2 or 3 teaching stations which may include teaching a procedure or examination to a student or a junior doctor.
6) There is always a Conflict Resolution in the OSCE as well, which may be a missed fracture or pneumothorax or a difficult referral. This station also includes talking to a patient with Alcohol Dependence or Binge Drinking.
7) 2 scenarios within the OSCE are always Resuscitation Scenarios and test your skills in ACLS, APLS or ATLS. These stations seem like they are the most difficult ones while preparing for the exam, but in my opinion you can easily pass these if you make a good approach towards resus stations during your practice sessions. The Key to the resus scenarios is sticking to the ABCDE approach.
8) ENT and Eye station; in the exam they can check your knowledge on these in various ways it can be a simple otoscopic or ophthalmoscopic examination, teaching may be incorporated into it or history taking could be tested but there will always be a station that will involve ENT or Eye.
9) A quick assessment station; this one is a tricky one, it usually has the task of taking a short history, performing a focused examination and formulating a management plan based on your findings and summarizing it to the patient.
10) An Information Providing station; this station usually involves a relative of the patient to whom you have to explain a new diagnosis or management of a medical condition. Juvenile Diabetes Mellitus and Addision’s Disease are 2 examples that I can recall.
11) A Psychiatric Station is always present in the OSCE, you may be asked to performed a Mental state examination on a patient or assess suicide risk, they may add a conflict resolution component to this station as well.

In my opinion if you divide your preparation according to these 11 types of stations you will be able to cover most of the things required to be successful. Some additional topics that are tested in different ways and I haven’t categorized under the stations include; DVT, major incidents, seizures and driving advice. It would be wise to look up the NICE guidelines on these.
I would also suggest that you reach the city where the exam is being held one day earlier and have a look at your examination center that day. Just so you know how long it takes to get there and don’t have the extra stress of finding the center on the morning of the exam. Please spend your last 2 days traveling and relaxing, there is no point in trying to cram in stuff over the last 2-3 days as this is not a theoretical exam where they expect you to know everything.
On the exam day itself it is understandable to be anxious and stressed and believe me the examiners know that the candidates are under pressure and are not there to fail you. You should know that staying cool and calm is the most important feature that will enable you to be successful. It usually takes 1 or 2 stations to get into the groove of the exam as the 1st station comes up it is normal to feel a little nervous or blank out temporarily. Do not act bold and wing it if you are unsure about something, be safe at this stage and say you are unable to recall at this point in time and that you will consult the department policy or your consultant before implementing it.
Do not worry if any of your stations don’t go as well as you expected them to, leave the previous station behind you and move on to the next one. Do not let your performance on the previous station affect your performance on the next one. I know this is easier said than done but it has to be said as it is human nature to dwell on the past. You should also know that there is not a minimum number of stations that need to be passed to pass the exam, that was how it used to be in the past. The marking scheme has changed to a cumulative score now and a different passing mark is set for every OSCE day so even if you fail a station you carry forward marks from it towards your overall score. Therefore it is imperative that you score marks for the basic things on each station. Some of these include greeting the actor, washing hands before and after examination, wearing personal protective equipment (or at least mentioning it to the examiner), being warm and courteous and thanking the actor at the end. These simple things may be the difference between a pass and fail score in your OSCE.
I hope it was helpful for all those that are reading this post, good luck with your exam, with a bit of structure and practice I’m sure you will pass the OSCE.