Variation in ancillary testing among pediatric asthma patients seen in emergency departments

Acad Emerg Med. 2007 Jun;14(6):532-8. doi: 10.1197/j.aem.2007.01.016. Epub 2007 Apr 19.


Background: Variation in the management of acute pediatric asthma within emergency departments is largely unexplored.

Objectives: To investigate whether ancillary testing for patients with asthma would be associated with patient, physician, and hospital characteristics.

Methods: The authors performed an analysis of a subset of patients from an extensive retrospective chart review of randomly selected charts at all 25 member emergency departments of the Pediatric Emergency Care Applied Research Network. Patients with a diagnosis of asthma were selected for supplemental review and included in this study. Ancillary tests analyzed were chest radiographs and selected blood tests. Hierarchical analyses were performed to describe the associations between ancillary testing and the variables of interest.

Results: A total of 12,744 chart abstractions were completed, of which 734 (6%) were patients with acute exacerbations of asthma. Overall, 302 patients with asthma (41%) had ancillary testing. Of the 734 patients with asthma, 198 (27%) had chest radiographs and 104 (14%) had blood tests. Chest radiographs were more likely to be ordered in patients with fever. Less blood testing was associated with physician subspecialty training in pediatric emergency medicine, patients treated at children's hospitals, higher patient oxygen saturation, and patient disposition to home.

Conclusions: Ancillary testing occurred in more than one third of children with asthma, with chest radiographs ordered most frequently. Efforts to reduce the use of chest radiographs should target the management of febrile patients with asthma, whereas efforts to reduce blood testing should target providers without subspecialty training in pediatric emergency medicine and patients treated in nonchildren's hospitals who are more ill.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Adolescent
  • Asthma / diagnosis*
  • Asthma / physiopathology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data*
  • Radiography, Thoracic
  • Retrospective Studies