Objective: We sought to determine whether a standardized emergency department (ED) asthma care pathway (ACP) for adults would be accepted by ED staff, improve adherence to Canadian ED asthma management guidelines and improve patient outcomes.
Methods: Ten Ontario hospital EDs (5 intervention, 5 control) participated in a 5-month pre-post intervention study. Emergency department management, admissions, repeat ED visits and ED length of stay were compared between sites and by ACP use versus nonuse at intervention sites.
Results: The ACP was used in 101 of 383 visits (26.4%) at 5 intervention sites. Use of the ACP varied significantly between sites, ranging from 6% to 60% (p < 0.001). When compared with control sites, there were significant increases in the use of metered dose inhalers (MDIs), inhaled steroids, referrals, documentation of teaching, patient recollection of teaching (all with a p < 0.001) and oxygen (p = 0.001). Use of peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR) measurements decreased in both intervention and control sites. Increased PEFR documentation and systemic steroid use in the ED and on discharge were only found in patients who were on the ACP at intervention sites. Admissions increased from 3.9% to 9.4% at intervention sites in contrast to control sites, where they remained fairly stable (p = 0.016), but did not differ by ACP use. The length of stay for discharged patients increased by a mean of 16 minutes for ACP patients at intervention sites (p = 0.002). There were no statistically significant differences in repeat ED visits.
Conclusion: Adoption of a standardized ED ACP for adults is highly variable. Despite modest uptake, which averaged 26%, beneficial changes in specific aspects of asthma care delivery were found, notably in referrals and recollection of teaching done during the ED visit, without a substantial increase in ED length of stay. These changes may lead to improvements in outcomes, such as reduced relapse rates, which this study was not designed or powered to detect. Provincial and national implementation strategies that address barriers to clinical pathway adoption are warranted and have the potential to improve adherence to guidelines and outcomes for asthma patients.