Viral respiratory infections are common in children, and practice guidelines do not recommend routine testing for typical viral illnesses. Despite results often not impacting care, nasopharyngeal swabs for viral testing are frequently performed and are an uncomfortable procedure. The aim of this initiative was to decrease unnecessary respiratory viral testing (RVT) in the emergency department (ED) and the pediatric medicine wards (PMWs) by 50% and 25%, respectively, over 36 months.


An expert panel reviewed published guidelines and appropriate evidence to formulate an RVT pathway using plan-do-study-act cycles. A multifaceted improvement strategy was developed that included implementing 2 newer, more effective tests when testing was deemed necessary; electronic order modifications with force functions; audit and feedback; and education. By using statistical process control charts, the outcomes analyzed were the percentage of RVT ordered in the ED and the rate of RVT ordered on the PMWs. Balancing measures included return visits leading to admission and inpatient viral nosocomial outbreaks.


The RVT rate decreased from a mean of 3.0% to 0.5% of ED visits and from 44.3 to 30.1 per 1000 patient days on the PMWs and was sustained throughout the study. Even when accounting for the new rapid influenza test available in the ED, a 50% decrease in overall ED RVT was still achieved without any significant impact on return visits leading to admission or inpatient nosocomial infections.


Through implementation of a standardized, electronically integrated RVT pathway, a decrease in unnecessary RVT was successfully achieved. Audit and feedback, reminders, and biannual education all supported long-term sustainability of this initiative.

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