CPAP safety for infants with bronchiolitis on the general pediatrics floor



– Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego has been doing continuous positive airway pressure for infants with bronchiolitis on the general pediatrics floors safely and with no problems for nearly 20 years, according to a presentation at Pediatric Hospital Medicine.

Dr. Christiane Lenzen

It’s newsworthy because “very, very few” hospitals do bronchiolitis continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) outside of the ICU. “The perception is that there are complications, and you might miss kids that are really sick if you keep them on the floor.” However, “we have been doing it safely for so long that no one thinks twice about it,” said Christiane Lenzen, MD, a pediatric hospitalist at Rady and an assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Diego.

It doesn’t matter if children have congenital heart disease, chronic lung disease, or other problems, she said, “if they are stable enough for the floor, we will see if it’s okay.”

Rady’s hand was forced on the issue because it has a large catchment area but limited ICU beds, so for practical reasons and within certain limits, CPAP moved to the floors. One of Dr. Lenzen’s colleagues noted that, as long as there’s nurse and respiratory leadership buy in, “it’s actually quite easy to pull off in a very safe manner.”

Rady has a significant advantage over community hospitals and other places considering the approach, because it has onsite pediatric ICU services for when things head south. Over the past 3 or so years, 52% of the children the pediatric hospital medicine service started on CPAP (168/324) had to be transferred to the ICU; 17% were ultimately intubated.

Many of those transfers were caused by comorbidities, not CPAP failure, but other times children needed greater respiratory support; in general, the floor CPAP limit is 6 cm H2O and a fraction of inspired oxygen of 50%. Also, sometimes children needed to be sedated for CPAP, which isn’t done on the floor.

With the 52% transfer rate, “I would worry about patients who are sick enough to need CPAP staying” in a hospital without quick access to ICU services, Dr. Lenzen said at the meeting sponsored by the Society of Hospital Medicine, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Academic Pediatric Association.

Even so, among 324 children who at least initially were treated with CPAP on the floor – out of 2,424 admitted to the pediatric hospital medicine service with bronchiolitis – there hasn’t been a single pneumothorax, aspiration event, or CPAP equipment–related injury, she said.

CPAP on the floor has several benefits. ICU resources are conserved, patient handoffs and the work of transfers into and out of the ICU are avoided, families don’t have to get used to a new treatment team, and infants aren’t subjected to the jarring ICU environment.

For it to work, though, staff “really need to be on top of this,” and “it needs to be very tightly controlled” with order sets and other measures, the presenters said. There’s regular training at Rady for nurses, respiratory therapists, and hospitalists on CPAP equipment, airway management, monitoring, troubleshooting, and other essentials.

Almost all children on the pediatric floors have a trial of high-flow nasal cannula with an upper limit of 8 L/min. If the Respiratory Assessment Score hasn’t improved in an hour, CPAP is considered. If a child is admitted with a score above 10 and they seem to be worsening, they go straight to CPAP.

Children alternate between nasal prongs and nasal masks to prevent pressure necrosis, and are kept nil per os while on CPAP. They are on continual pulse oximetry and cardiorespiratory monitoring. Vital signs and respiratory scores are checked frequently, more so for children who are struggling.

The patient-to-nurse ratio drops from the usual 4:1 to 3:1 when a child goes on CPAP, and to 2:1 if necessary. Traveling nurses aren’t allowed to take CPAP cases.

The presenters didn’t report any disclosures.

This article was updated 8/27/19.

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