Burning HOT: revisiting guidelines associated with home oxygen therapy.
Patients who continue to smoke while on home oxygen therapy endanger themselves, family members, neighbors, and firefighters and create an expense to society for their medical care. This phenomenon was studied in our burn center. Fourteen patients were identified prospectively during the last 2 years. All were smoking while on nasal oxygen. The 14 patients (10 males) were 45 to 87 years of age. All suffered facial burns. Only one patient had a significant burn (30% TBSA, 20% 3rd degree), but all suffered from an exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Two patients gave a history of stage IV lung cancer and four patients had newly found squamous cell cancer seen on bronchoscopy. All six patients with lung cancer and one with severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease died. Of the seven survivors, only one patient quit smoking. Total charges were $2,861,526 and total costs were $938,311. All patients had Medicare or Medicaid on admission. Hospital loss ($432,561) was incurred in those patients admitted more than 4 days whereas a profit ($33,285) was realized in patients admitted less than 4 days. These deaths and financial loss could be reduced by better testing and more precise guidelines as to which patients can safely receive home oxygen. Patients can have their saliva tested for the nicotine breakdown product of cotinine; the test takes 10 minutes. The American Burn Association, in conjunction with the American College of Chest Physicians, should address this issue and develop guidelines for physicians who order home oxygen therapy and for state departments of public health who should regulate the companies that deliver home oxygen.