Prehospital Pediatric Asthma Care during COVID-19: Changes to EMS Treatment Protocols and Downstream Clinical Effects

Jennifer N. Fishe, Hanna Heintz, Sylvia Owusu-Ansah, Kyle Schmucker, Lauren C. Riney, Olga Semenova, Gerard Garvan, Lorin R. Browne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: During the COVID-19 pandemic, many emergency medical services (EMS) agencies modified treatment guidelines for clinical care and standard operating procedures. For the prehospital care of pediatric asthma exacerbations, modifications included changes to bronchodilator administration, systemic corticosteroid administration, and introduction of alternative medications. Since timely administration of bronchodilators and systemic corticosteroids has been shown to improve pediatric asthma clinical outcomes, we investigated the association of COVID-19 protocol modifications in the prehospital management of pediatric asthma on hospital admission rates and emergency department (ED) length-of-stay. Methods: This is a multicenter, retrospective, observational cohort study comparing prehospital pediatric asthma patients treated by EMS clinicians from four EMS systems before and after implementation of COVID-19 interim EMS protocol modifications. We included children ages 2–18 years who were treated and transported by ground EMS for respiratory-related prehospital primary complaints, and who also had asthma-related ED discharge diagnoses. Patient data and outcomes were compared from 12 months prior to and 12 months after the implementation of interim COVID-19 prehospital protocol modifications using univariate and multivariable statistics. Results: A total of 430 patients met inclusion criteria with a median age of 8 years. There was a slight male predominance (57.9%) and the majority of patients were African American (78.4%). There were twice as many patients treated prior to the COVID-19 protocol modifications (N = 287) compared to after (N = 143). There was a significant decrease in EMS bronchodilator administration from 76% to 59.4% of patients after COVID-19 protocol guidelines were implemented (p < 0.0001). Mixed effects models for hospital admission (to both pediatric inpatient units and pediatric intensive care units) as well as ED length-of-stay did not show any significant effect after the COVID-19 protocol change period (p = 0.18 and p = 0.55, respectively). Conclusions: Despite a decrease in prehospital bronchodilator administration after COVID-19 changes to prehospital pediatric asthma management protocols, hospital admission rates and ED length-of-stay did not significantly increase. However, this finding is tempered by the marked decrease in study patients treated after COVID-19 prehospital protocol modifications. Given the potential for future waves of COVID-19 variants, further studies with larger patient populations are warranted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPrehospital Emergency Care
StateAccepted/In press - 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine
  • Emergency


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