Background: Many emergency department (ED) providers do not follow guideline recommendations for the use of the pneumonia severity index (PSI) to determine the initial site of treatment for patients with community-acquired pneumonia (CAP). We identified the reasons why ED providers hospitalize low-risk patients or manage higher-risk patients as outpatients.
Methods: As a part of a trial to implement a PSI-based guideline for the initial site of treatment of patients with CAP, we analyzed data for patients managed at 12 EDs allocated to a high-intensity guideline implementation strategy study arm. The guideline recommended outpatient care for low-risk patients (nonhypoxemic patients with a PSI risk classification of I, II, or III) and hospitalization for higher-risk patients (hypoxemic patients or patients with a PSI risk classification of IV or V). We asked providers who made guideline-discordant decisions on site of treatment to detail the reasons for nonadherence to guideline recommendations.
Results: There were 1,306 patients with CAP (689 low-risk patients and 617 higher-risk patients). Among these patients, physicians admitted 258 (37.4%) of 689 low-risk patients and treated 20 (3.2%) of 617 higher-risk patients as outpatients. The most commonly reported reasons for admitting low-risk patients were the presence of a comorbid illness (178 [71.5%] of 249 patients); a laboratory value, vital sign, or symptom that precluded ED discharge (73 patients [29.3%]); or a recommendation from a primary care or a consulting physician (48 patients [19.3%]). Higher-risk patients were most often treated as outpatients because of a recommendation by a primary care or consulting physician (6 [40.0%] of 15 patients).
Conclusion: ED providers hospitalize many low-risk patients with CAP, most frequently for a comorbid illness. Although higher-risk patients are infrequently treated as outpatients, this decision is often based on the request of an involved physician.