• antibiotics;
  • bronchiolitis;
  • bronchodilator agents;
  • evidence-based medicine;
  • radiography

Objectives:  To determine the current management of bronchiolitis by five major New Zealand hospitals and to identify areas for improvement.

Methods:  Lists of infants under 1 year of age admitted with bronchiolitis during 1998 were obtained from the casemix offices of the five largest New Zealand hospitals with paediatric services. Hospital records from a random sample of these admissions were reviewed.

Results:  Out of the 409 infants admitted overnight, 8% had been born ≤32 weeks gestation and 53% were aged younger than 6 months. Overall, 59% received oxygen, 21% had nasogastric fluids, 22% had intravenous fluids, 34% were prescribed antibiotics, 42% received bronchodilators and 60% had a chest radiograph. Respiratory secretions were collected for viral studies from 58% of infants and, in 59%, respiratory syncytial virus was detected. Significant variations in management were detected between hospitals. The overall proportion of infants requiring oxygen, intravenous or nasogastric fluids (65%) was significantly higher than that found in a 1986−1988 Christchurch study where only 25% received one or more of these interventions (P < 0.001).

Conclusions:  Opportunities exist to rationalize bronchiolitis management in New Zealand with potential cost savings, particularly by reducing the number of chest radiographs and prescribing of unnecessary antibiotics and bronchodilators.