A common cause of infant morbidity and hospitalization in developed countries, infant viral bronchiolitis, has long been bedeviled by treatment uncertainty beyond supportive care.
Rationales for most pharmacologic treatments continue to be debated, andgenerally advise respiratory and hydration support, discouraging the use of chest radiography, albuterol, glucocorticoids, antibiotics, and epinephrine.
Despite evidence that the latter interventions are ineffective, they are still too often applied, according to two recent studies, one in Pediatrics, the other in JAMA Pediatrics.
“The pull of the therapeutic vacuum surrounding this disease has been noted in the pages of this journal for at least 50 years, with Wright and Beem writing in 1965 that ‘energies should not be frittered away by the annoyance of unnecessary or futile medications and procedures’ for the child with bronchiolitis,” said emergency physicians Matthew J. Lipshaw, MD, MS, of the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, and Todd A. Florin, MD, MSCE, of Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.
These remarks came in theirin Pediatrics wryly titled: “Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There” and published online to accompany a recent study of three network meta-analyses.
Led by Sarah A. Elliott, PhD, of the Alberta Research Centre for Health Evidence at the University of Alberta in Edmonton,amalgamated 150 randomized, controlled trials comparing a placebo or active comparator with any bronchodilator, glucocorticoid steroid, hypertonic saline solution, antibiotic, helium-oxygen therapy, or high-flow oxygen therapy. It then looked at the following outcomes in children aged 2 years and younger: hospital admission rate on day 1, hospital admission rate within 7 days, and total hospital length of stay.
Few treatments seemed more effective than nebulized placebo (0.9% saline) for short-term outcomes, the authors found. While nebulized epinephrine and nebulized hypertonic saline plus salbutamol appeared to reduce admission rates during the index ED presentation, and hypertonic saline, alone or in combination with epinephrine, seemed to reduce hospital stays, such treatment had no effect on admissions within 7 days of initial presentation. Furthermore, most benefits disappeared in higher-quality studies.
Concluding, albeit with weak evidence and low confidence, that some benefit might accrue with hypertonic saline with salbutamol to reduce admission rates on initial presentation to the ED, the authors called for well-designed studies on treatments in inpatients and outpatients.
According to Dr. Lipshaw, assistant professor of clinical pediatrics, the lack of benefit observed in superior studies limits the applicability of Dr. Elliott and colleagues’ results to immediate clinical practice. “These findings could be used, however, to target future high-quality studies toward the medications that they found might be useful,” he said in an interview.
For the present, other recent research augurs well for strategically reducing unnecessary care. In apublished online in JAMA Pediatrics, Libby Haskell, MN, of the ED at Starship Children’s Hospital in Auckland, New Zealand, and associates reported on a cluster-randomized, controlled trial of targeted interventions.
Conducted in 2017 at 26 hospitals and with 3,727 babies in New Zealand and Australia, the study addressed drivers of non–evidence-based approaches with behavior-modifying approaches such as on-site clinical leads, stakeholder meetings, a train-the-trainer workshop, education, and audit and feedback.
The authors reported a 14.1% difference in rates of compliance during the first 24 hours of hospitalization favoring the intervention group for all five bronchiolitis guideline recommendations. The greatest change was seen in albuterol and chest radiography use, with other improvements in ED visits, inpatient consultations, and throughout hospitalization.
“These results provide clinicians and hospitals with clear implementation strategies to address unnecessary treatment of infants with bronchiolitis,” Dr. Haskell’s group wrote. Dr. Lipshaw agreed thatincluding clinician and family education, audit and feedback, and clinical decision support have been successful. “Haskell et al. demonstrated that it is possible to successfully deimplement non–evidence-based practices for bronchiolitis with targeted inventions,” he said. “It would be wonderful to see their success replicated in the U.S.”