A review and economic evaluation of bronchodilator delivery methods in hospitalized patients

Arch Intern Med. 1996 Oct 14;156(18):2113-8.


Background: Bronchodilator delivery by metered dose inhaler (MDI) to treat airflow obstruction is considered to be less expensive and as effective as nebulized therapy.

Objectives: To document the utilization of bronchodilator delivery methods in a tertiary care Canadian university teaching hospital and to perform an economic evaluation.

Methods: A prospective 6-week audit of 4 preselected hospital wards (respiratory, thoracic surgery, general surgery, and a general internal medicine clinical teaching unit) and a cost-minimization economic evaluation were performed. Bronchodilator (salbutamol and ipratropium bromide) doses, frequency, and delivery methods, either MDI or wet nebulizer (WN), were recorded for 95 patients treated with aerosolized bronchodilators. Direct costs for medications and hourly wages including benefits and equipment were obtained. Time and motion studies identified time allocated to MDI and WN delivery. We used sensitivity analyses to test assumptions that could significantly affect treatment costs, especially assumptions about medications, labor, and spacer devices. Costs are expressed in Canadian dollars (Can$1 = US$0.75).

Results: Sixty-seven patients (70.5%) were treated with WN, 6 (6.3%) with MDI, and 22 (23.2%) with both WN and MDI. Self-administration of salbutamol by MDI was the least expensive: $1.27 for 200-microgram doses and $1.73 for 400-microgram doses compared with $2.62 for a 2.5-mg dose delivered by WN. The difference in cost between equivalent treatments (400-microgram MDI vs 2.5-mg WN) is only $0.89. Sensitivity analyses showed that MDI was the least expensive therapy when self-administration was possible and for all levels of supervision if more than 4 minutes was needed to administer a WN treatment.

Conclusions: Bronchodilator delivery by WN is commonly prescribed for hospitalized patients despite evidence for equivalency of effect using MDI and in the absence of substitution protocols. Previous studies have estimated a far greater cost differential based on unrealistic labor estimates. We found that supervision of patients using MDIs minimized the differential cost between WN and MDI therapy and that cost savings are maximal in patients who can self-administer MDI therapy. Methodologically sound economic evaluations can better identify true cost savings and variables that need further study.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Albuterol / administration & dosage
  • Albuterol / economics
  • Bronchodilator Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Bronchodilator Agents / economics
  • Canada
  • Drug Costs
  • Female
  • Hospital Costs
  • Hospitalization*
  • Humans
  • Ipratropium / administration & dosage
  • Ipratropium / economics
  • Lung Diseases, Obstructive / drug therapy
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nebulizers and Vaporizers / economics
  • Prospective Studies


  • Bronchodilator Agents
  • Ipratropium
  • Albuterol