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October 13, 1997

A Comparison Between Emergency Diagnostic and Treatment Unit and Inpatient Care in the Management of Acute Asthma

Author Affiliations

From the Departments of Emergency Medicine (Drs McDermott, Murphy, Zalenski, Rydman, and Roberts and Ms Kampe) and Internal Medicine (Drs McDermott, Marder, and Rajendran), Cook County Hospital, Chicago, Ill; the Center for Health Services Research, School of Public Health (Drs McDermott, Murphy, Zalenski, Rydman, McCarren, Jovanovic, Roberts, and Mensah and Mss Kaur and Kampe), and the Heart Center (Dr Isola), University of Illinois at Chicago.

Arch Intern Med. 1997;157(18):2055-2062. doi:10.1001/archinte.1997.00440390041006

Background:  Emergency diagnostic and treatment units (EDTUs) may provide an alternative to hospitalization for patients with reversible diseases, such as asthma, who fail to adequately respond to emergency department therapy.

Objective:  To evaluate the medical and cost-effectiveness, patient satisfaction, and quality of life of patients receiving EDTU care for acute asthma compared with inpatient care.

Methods:  A prospective, randomized clinical trial performed at 2 urban public hospitals enrolled patients with acute asthma (age range, 18-55 years) not meeting discharge criteria after 3 hours of emergency department therapy. Patients were treated with inhaled adrenergic agonists and steroids in an EDTU for up to 9 hours after randomization or with routine therapy in a hospital ward. Patients were followed up for 8 weeks.

Main Outcome Measures:  Discharge rate from the EDTU, length of stay, relapse rates, days missed from work or school, days incapacitated during waking hours, symptom-free days and nights, nocturnal awakenings, direct medical costs, patient satisfaction, and patient quality of life.

Results:  The study consisted of 222 patients with asthma. Sixty-five patients (59%) treated in an EDTU were discharged home; the remainder were admitted to the hospital. There were no differences during the follow-up period in relapse rates (P=.74) or in any other morbidities between the EDTU and inpatient groups. There were significant differences in the length of stay, patient satisfaction, and quality of life favoring EDTU care. The mean (±SD) cost per patient in the EDTU group was $1202.79±$1343.96, compared with $2247.32±$1110.18 for the control group (P<.001).

Conclusions:  Treatment of selected patients with asthma in an EDTU results in the safe discharge of most such patients. This study suggests that quality gains and cost-effective measures can be achieved by the use of such units.Arch Intern Med. 1997;157:2055-2062