Bronchiolitis is a common lower respiratory tract infection of infancy where management has varied considerably in the past. The aim of the present study was to determine whether patient treatment and outcomes changed after introduction of a clinical care pathway. Infants aged up to 6 months admitted to hospital with bronchiolitis were identified as part of an annual audit of bronchiolitis management between winters 2003/2004 and 2009/2010. The primary outcome, duration of stay (DOS), was compared before and after the clinical pathway was introduced before the winter 2005/2006. There were 328 infants identified, mean age 75 days, respiratory syncitial virus was detected in 89%. After the clinical pathway was introduced, the proportion of infants prescribed salbutamol fell from 50% to 8% (p < 0.001) and ipratropium bromide from 38% to 0% (p < 0.001) but the proportion prescribed antibiotics was unchanged. The median DOS was 79 h prior to the clinical pathway and 66 h afterwards (p = 0.010) but there was no difference in days where supplemental oxygen or nasogastric feeding was required.
Conclusions: A clinical pathway for the management of acute bronchiolitis can be implemented in the hospital setting and the conservative approach, in particular not prescribing bronchodilators, is not associated with prolonged duration of stay.