Background: Respiratory distress due to asthma is a common reason for pediatric emergency medical services (EMS) transports. Timely initiation of asthma treatment, including glucocorticoids, improves hospital outcomes. The impact of EMS-administered glucocorticoids on hospital-based outcomes for pediatric asthma patients is unknown.
Objective: The objective of this study was to evaluate the effect of an evidence-based pediatric EMS asthma protocol update, inclusive of oral glucocorticoid administration, on time to hospital discharge.
Methods: This was a retrospective cohort study of children (2-18 years) with an acute asthma exacerbation transported by an urban EMS system to 10 emergency departments over 2 years. The investigators implemented an EMS protocol update one year into the study period requiring glucocorticoid administration for all patients, with the major change being inclusion of oral dexamethasone (0.6 mg/kg, max. dose = 10 mg). Protocol implementation included mandatory paramedic training. Data was abstracted from linked prehospital and hospital records. Continuous data were compared before and after the protocol change with the Mann-Whitney test, and categorical data were compared with the Pearson χ2 test.
Results: During the study period, 482 asthmatic children met inclusion criteria. After the protocol change, patients were more likely to receive a prehospital glucocorticoid (11% vs. 18%, p = 0.02). Median total hospital time after the protocol change decreased from 6.1 hours (95% CI: 5.4-6.8) to 4.5 hours (95% CI: 4.2-4.8), p < 0.001. Total care time, defined as time from ambulance arrival to hospital discharge, also decreased [6.6 hours (95% CI: 5.8-7.3) vs. 5.2 hours (95% CI: 4.8-5.6), p = 0.01]. Overall, patients were less likely to be admitted to the hospital (30% vs. 21%, p = 0.02) after the change. Those with more severe exacerbations were less likely to be admitted to a critical care unit (82% vs. 44%, p = 0.02) after the change, rather than an acute care floor.
Conclusions: Prehospital protocol change for asthmatic children is associated with shorter total hospital and total care times. This protocol change was also associated with decreased hospitalization rates and less need for critical care in those hospitalized. Further study is necessary to determine if other factors also contributed.
Keywords: asthma; emergency medical services; pediatric; prehospital; steroids.