OBJECTIVE--To ascertain the standard of care for hospital management of acute severe asthma in adults. DESIGN--Questionnaire based retrospective multicentre survey of case records. SETTING--36 hospitals (12 teaching and 24 district general hospitals) across England, Wales, and Scotland. PATIENTS--All patients admitted with acute severe asthma between 1 August and 30 September 1990 immediately before publication of national guidelines for asthma management. MAIN MEASURES--Main recommendations of guidelines for hospital management of acute severe asthma as performed by respiratory and non-respiratory physicians. RESULTS--766 patients (median age 41 (range 16-94) years) were studied; 465 (63%) were female and 448 (61%) had had previous admissions for asthma. Deficiencies were evident for each aspect of care studied, and respiratory physicians performed better than non-respiratory physicians. 429 (56%) patients had had their treatment increased in the two weeks preceding the admission but only 237 (31%) were prescribed oral steroids. Initially 661/766 (86%) patients had peak expiratory flow measured and recorded but only 534 (70%) ever had arterial blood gas tensions assessed. 65 (8%) patients received no steroid treatment in the first 24 hours after admission. Variability of peak expiratory flow was measured before discharge in 597/759 (78%) patients, of whom 334 (56%) achieved good control (variability < 25%). 47 (6%) patients were discharged without oral or inhaled steroids; 182/743 (24%) had no planned outpatient follow up and 114 failed to attend, leaving 447 (60%) seen in clinic within two months. Only 57/629 (8%) patients were recorded as having a written management plan. CONCLUSIONS--The hospital management of a significant minority of patients deviates from recommended national standards and some deviations are potentially serious. Overall, respiratory physicians provide significantly better care than non-respiratory physicians.
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