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Clinical Examination Does Not Predict Response to Albuterol in Ventilated Infants With Bronchiolitis.

OBJECTIVE: Bronchiolitis is a common respiratory infection in infants that is sometimes treated with albuterol. Response to albuterol is determined by clinical assessment, but this subjective determination is potentially unreliable. In this study, we compared providers' clinical assessment of response to albuterol with the measurement of response by pulmonary mechanics in intubated, sedated, and ventilated infants.

DESIGN: Before and 20 minutes following racemic albuterol therapy, a nurse, respiratory therapist, and physician performed simultaneous examinations and assessed response to albuterol in a population of intubated infants with bronchiolitis. Measurements of ventilator-derived pulmonary mechanics were obtained at these same times.

SETTING: This study was conducted in a PICU of a children's hospital.

PATIENTS: Seventy-five paired clinical assessments were made in 25 infants who were intubated and mechanically ventilated for severe bronchiolitis.

INTERVENTIONS: Pulmonary function measurements and clinical assessments before and after administration of albuterol.

MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: Response to albuterol was defined using a threshold of improvement in respiratory system resistance from baseline. Nine children (36%) had greater than 20% change and were deemed responders. Providers' discrimination of response was poor. The positive predictive values of nurses, respiratory therapists, and physicians were 38%, 25%, and 25%, respectively, and the negative predictive values were 67%, 54%, and 59%, respectively. Overall accuracy was 44% for nurses, 40% for respiratory therapists, and 48% for physicians. When comparing separate assessments of wheezing, aeration, and expiratory time, there was poor agreement between groups of providers in all variables (κ < 0.4 for each).

CONCLUSIONS: A provider's clinical assessment was not a reliable method for determining response to albuterol in children with bronchiolitis. Without assessment of pulmonary mechanics, caution should be used in classifying children with bronchiolitis as responders to albuterol.

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