Critics of the use of clinical practice guidelines (CPGs) in an emergency department (ED) setting believe that they are too cumbersome and time-consuming, but to the best of the authors' knowledge, potential barriers to CPG adherence in the ED have not been prospectively evaluated.
Objectives: To measure provider adherence to an ED CPG based on National Asthma Education and Prevention Program (NAEPP) recommendations, and to determine factors associated with provider nonadherence.
Methods: Prospective, cohort study of children aged 1-18 years with the diagnosis of an acute exacerbation of asthma who were seen in a pediatric ED and requiring admission, as well as a random selection of children discharged to home following pediatric ED care. The following adherence parameters were assessed: at least three nebulized albuterol treatments in the first hour; early steroid administration (after the first nebulizer treatment); clinical assessments using pulse oximetry and peak expiratory flow (PEF) (for children >6 years old); and use of a clinical score to assess acute illness severity (Asthma Severity Score). Nonadherence was defined as any deviation of the above parameters.
Results: Between July 1, 1998, and June 30, 1999, 369 patients were studied. Of these, 38% (139) were discharged to home, 38% (140) were admitted to the observation unit, and 24% (90) were admitted to the inpatient unit. Illness severities at initial presentation to the ED were: 24% (86) had mild exacerbations, 59% (212) had moderate exacerbations, and 17% (62) had severe exacerbations. Sixty-eight percent (95% CI = 63% to 73%) of the patients were managed with complete adherence to the CPG. Of the 32% with some form of nonadherence, most (63%) were children older than 6 years; in this group 64% (48/75) were nonadherent due to lack of PEF assessment. When PEF assessment was disregarded, an 83% (95% CI = 79% to 87%) adherence to the CPG was achieved. Other nonadherence factors included: lack of at least three nebulized albuterol treatments provided timely within the first hour (5%); delay in steroid administration (6%); lack of pulse oximeter use (0.5%); and failure to record clinical score to assess severity (1.1%). Patient age, illness severity (acute and chronic), first episode of wheezing, and high ED volume periods (evenings and weekends) did not worsen adherence.
Conclusions: Clinical practice guidelines can be used successfully in the pediatric ED and provide a more efficient management and treatment approach to acute exacerbations of childhood asthma. With a systematic and concise CPG, barriers to adherence in a pediatric ED appear to be minimal, with the exception of using PEF in the routine ED assessment.