SEATTLE – ICU transfers for acute bronchiolitis dropped 63% at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Fla., after the high-flow nasal cannula limit on the floor was raised from 6 L/min to 12 L/min, and treatment was started in the emergency department, according to a presentation at Pediatric Hospital Medicine.
A year before the change was made in April 2018, there were 17 transfers among 249 bronchiolitis patients treated on the floor, a transfer rate of 6.8%. In the year after the change, there were eight among 319 patients, a transfer rate of 2.5%. Raising the limit to 12 L/min prevented an estimated 14 transfers, for a total savings of almost $250,000, said pediatric hospitalist and assistant professor, MD.
The change was made after Dr. Siraj and her colleagues noticed that when children topped out at 6 L, they sometimes only needed a slightly higher flow rate in the ICU, maybe 8 L or 10 L, for a short while before they came back to the floor. Given the safety of high-flow nasal cannula (HFNC), the ICU transfer often seemed like a waste of time and resources.
“As hospitalists, we felt we could safely take care of these patients,” Dr. Siraj said.
So she and her colleague pediatric critical care specialist A, also an assistant professor of pediatrics, reviewed over a year’s worth of data at All Children’s. They found that 12 L/min – roughly 1.5 L/kg/min – was the cutoff that best discriminated between patients who needed intubation and those who did not, “so that’s what we chose,” Dr. Sochet said.
For simplicity, they broke limits down by age: A maximum flow rate of 8 L/min for children up to 6 months old; 10 L for children aged 6-12 months; and up to 12 L/min for children age 12-24 months. The fraction of inspired oxygen remained the same at 50%. Children were started at maximum flows, then weaned down as they improved. Respiratory assessments were made at least every 4 hours.
The changes were part of a larger revision of the hospital’s pathway for uncomplicated bronchiolitis in children up to 2 years old; it was a joint effort involving nurses, respiratory therapists, and pediatric hospitalists, and ED and ICU teams.
Early initiation in the ED was “probably one of the most important” changes; it kept children from wearing out as they struggled to breath. Kids often start to improve right away, but when then don’t after 30-60 minutes, it’s an indication that they should probably be triaged to the ICU for possible intubation, Dr. Siraj said.
Dr. Sochet was careful to note that institutions have to assess their own situations before taking similar steps. “Not everyone has a tertiary care ICU staffed 24 and 7,” he said.
“You have to ask what floor resources you have, what’s your ability to escalate when you need to. Use data from your own institution to guide where you pick your cutoffs. Adequate staffing is really about respiratory [therapist]/nursing ratios, not the physicians,” he said.
In addition, “in an otherwise healthy child that just has [HFNC] for bronchiolitis, there is absolutely no reason why you should be withholding feeds.” Fed children will feel better and do better, he said.
The presenters had no disclosures.