Background: To evaluate the therapeutic and financial benefits of protocol therapy for acute asthma using standard medications.
Materials and methods: This study employed a sequential design in which the influence of an asthma care path on hospital admissions, length of stay (LOS) in the emergency department, and return visits were evaluated for 1 year. This information was contrasted with similar data obtained from the 8 months immediately before the protocol was implemented (preprotocol) and a 12-month period after strict adherence to it had declined (admixture).
Results: In all, 526 acute exacerbations of asthma were treated with the care path, and 429 and 558 episodes were evaluated during the preprotocol and admixture periods, respectively. There were no significant differences between the presenting clinical or physiologic features of any group. With the protocol, 77% of the patients resolved their symptoms within 1:47 +/- 0.02 hours:minutes of arrival in the emergency department with a 2% return rate within 24 hours. The algorithms used quickly identified those needing hospitalization. Patients not meeting the criteria for discharge after receiving the treatments employed typically did not resolve their symptoms for days (average hospital stay 4.1 +/- 0.2 days). Compared with the preprotocol period, the care path significantly reduced the LOS by 50 minutes, the number of urgent and intensive care unit admissions by 27% and 41%, respectively, and the frequency of return visits within 24 hours by 66%. Charges to patients and third-party payors decreased $395,000. When adherence to the protocol diminished, LOS, admissions, and returns rose significantly toward preprotocol values and the financial benefits were lost.
Conclusions: Asthma protocol therapy, based primarily upon aggressive use of sympathomimetics in association with serial monitoring of key indices of improvement, provides prompt and efficient relief for acute exacerbations of asthma. Such an approach yields significant financial benefit while quickly identifying individuals who require hospitalization, and it also detects physician practice patterns that can have potentially detrimental impacts on patient care.