Importance: Reliance on pulse oximetry has been associated with increased hospitalizations, prolonged hospital stay, and escalation of care.
Objective: To examine whether there is a difference in the proportion of unscheduled medical visits within 72 hours of emergency department discharge in infants with bronchiolitis who have oxygen desaturations to lower than 90% for at least 1 minute during home oximetry monitoring vs those without desaturations.
Design, setting, and participants: Prospective cohort study conducted from February 6, 2008, to April 30, 2013, at a tertiary care pediatric emergency department in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, among 118 otherwise healthy infants aged 6 weeks to 12 months discharged home from the emergency department with a diagnosis of acute bronchiolitis.
Main outcomes and measures: The primary outcome was unscheduled medical visits for bronchiolitis, including a visit to any health care professional due to concerns about respiratory symptoms, within 72 hours of discharge in infants with and without desaturations. Secondary outcomes included examination of the severity and duration of the desaturations, delayed hospitalizations within 72 hours of discharge, and the effect of activity on desaturations.
Results: A total of 118 infants were included (mean [SD] age, 4.5 [2.1] months; 69 male [58%]). During a mean (SD) monitoring period of 19 hours 57 minutes (10 hours 37 minutes), 75 of 118 infants (64%) had at least 1 desaturation event (median continuous duration, 3 minutes 22 seconds; interquartile range, 1 minute 54 seconds to 8 minutes 50 seconds). Among the 118 infants, 59 (50%) had at least 3 desaturations, 12 (10%) had desaturation for more than 10% of the monitored time, and 51 (43%) had desaturations lasting 3 or more minutes continuously. Of the 75 infants who had desaturations, 59 (79%) had desaturation to 80% or less for at least 1 minute and 29 (39%) had desaturation to 70% or less for at least 1 minute. Of the 75 infants with desaturations, 18 (24%) had an unscheduled visit for bronchiolitis as compared with 11 of the 43 infants without desaturation (26%) (difference, -1.6%; 95% CI, -0.15 to ∞; P = .66). One of the 75 infants with desaturations (1%) and 2 of the 43 infants without desaturations (5%) were hospitalized within 72 hours (difference, -3.3%; 95% CI, -0.04 to 0.10; P = .27). Among the 62 infants with desaturations who had diary information, 48 (77%) experienced them during sleep or while feeding.
Conclusions and relevance: The majority of infants with mild bronchiolitis experienced recurrent or sustained desaturations after discharge home. Children with and without desaturations had comparable rates of return for care, with no difference in unscheduled return medical visits and delayed hospitalizations.