The expansion of the field of pediatric hospital medicine in the past 30 years has resulted in improved health care outcomes for hospitalized children1,2 and has been accompanied by a robust increase in the amount of scholarly work related to the field.3 We performed a review of the literature published in 2019 to identify the 10 articles that had the most impact on pediatric hospital medicine, and presented the findings at HM20 Virtual, the 2020 annual conference of the Society of Hospital Medicine. Five of the selected articles are highlighted here.
Wechsler ME et al. Step-up therapy in black children and adults with poorly controlled asthma. N Engl J Med. 2019 Sep 26;381(13):1227-39.
Current pediatric asthma guidelines suggest adding a long-acting beta-agonist (LABA) to inhaled corticosteroid (ICS) therapy, rather than increasing the ICS dose, for children with poorly controlled asthma. However, these data are based on trials with disproportionately few Black subjects. This study aimed to determine the best step-up therapy for Black patients whose asthma was poorly controlled on ICS monotherapy.
Study overview and results
The authors reported two parallel double-blind, randomized, controlled trials, one in children and one in adolescents and adults. The study of children included 280 subjects ranging in age from 5 to 11, with at least one Black grandparent, and with poorly controlled asthma on low-dose ICS therapy. It used a four-way crossover design in which each subject was treated with four different 14-week treatment regimens: either double (medium-dose) or quintuple (high-dose) their baseline ICS dose, with or without the addition of a LABA. A superior response was defined by the composite outcome of at least one fewer asthma exacerbation, more asthma-control days, or a 5–percentage point difference in predicted FEV1. Forty-six percent of children had improved asthma outcomes when the ICS dose was increased rather than with the addition of a LABA. In contrast, Black adolescents and Black adults had superior responses to the addition of a LABA. There was no significant interaction between the percentage of African ancestry as determined by DNA genotyping and the primary composite outcome. High-dose ICS was associated with a decrease in the ratio of urinary cortisol to creatinine in children younger than 8 years.
Approximately 25% of children dropped out of the study, with disproportionately more children dropping out while on a high-dose ICS regimen. Additionally, the difference in the composite outcome was primarily driven by differences in FEV1, with few subjects demonstrating a difference in asthma exacerbations or asthma-control days. Although a decrease in urinary cortisol to creatinine ratio was noted in children under 8 on high-dose ICS, the study period was not long enough to determine the clinical implications of this finding.
Important findings and implications
While studies with a majority of white children have suggested a superior response from adding a LABA compared to increasing the dose of an ICS, almost half of Black children showed a superior response when the dose of an ICS was increased rather than adding a LABA. It is important to note that current guidelines are based on studies with a disproportionate majority of white subjects and may not accurately reflect optimal care for patients in other racial groups. This study underscores the need to include a diverse patient population in research studies.