For treatment of mild to moderate dehydration arising from viral gastroenteritis, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends oral rehydration therapy over a 4-hour period. However, oral rehydration therapy remains largely underused by emergency physicians. Studies suggest that a major barrier is a perception that the time requirement for oral rehydration therapy is too long relative to intravenous (IV) hydration.
To test the hypothesis that children who receive IV hydration for gastroenteritis spend significantly less than 4 hours in the emergency department (ED).
A prospective case series involving a consecutive sample of 549 children treated with IV hydration for mild to moderate dehydration at an urban pediatric ED. Treatment time was defined as period elapsed between when a physician placed a patient in an ED room and when he/she discharged the patient. We excluded time spent in the waiting room before seeing a physician. Using a standardized procedure, we collected data in September/October 2000 (fall), November 2000 to January 2001 (winter), and April/May 2001 (spring). To provide a measure of average pass-through time at this ED, we also collected data on all patients treated during consecutive 7-day periods in the fall (n = 502), winter (n = 776), and spring (n = 653). We performed univariate analysis of continuous variables using t tests for independent samples.
549 subjects received IV treatment for dehydration; of whom 55% were female, and mean age was 9.7 years. Treatment time for patients undergoing IV hydration exceeded 4 hours (mean = 5.4 ± 2.4 hours; median = 5.0 hours). Mean time for IV treatment of dehydration was significantly longer than the mean time for treating other patients (5.4 vs. 1.2 hours, P < 0.001). Mean IV treatment times were: fall (5.1 hours), winter (5.5 hours), and spring (4.7 hours). Mean treatment time exceeded 4 hours regardless of time of day, day of the week, or age of child.
Contrary to our hypothesis, mean treatment time for IV therapy for mild to moderate dehydration exceeded the 4-hour period recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics for oral rehydration. The data did not support the perception by emergency physicians that children treated with IV hydration spend significantly less time than 4 hours in the ED. These findings have implications for addressing one of the major barriers to the use of oral rehydration therapy in the ED setting.