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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Care transition interventions for children with asthma in the emergency department

Childhood asthma is a common and costly chronic medical condition, affecting 7 million children and leading to more than 50 billion dollars in direct healthcare costs every year.  It is particularly burdensome for non-Hispanic black and Puerto Rican children, who are four times as likely to visit the Emergency Department (ED) as non-Hispanic white children.  In this month’s issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Martin and colleagues review strategies to bridge care from the ED to home and ambulatory settings, like primary care providers (J Allergy Clin Immunol 2016; 138(6): 1518-1525).   They divide these strategies into two domains: care coordination and self-management education.

Five studies were identified regarding care coordination.  Three involved improved scheduling for follow up appointments, one involved allergen skin testing in the ED, and one involved use of a template to improve adherence to guidelines in the ED.  In all five studies, there were mixed results in the improvement in asthma care.  Only one of the four interventions for self-management education showed improvement in asthma care.  An ongoing project, the CHICAGO Plan, attempts to improve asthma outcomes by taking a patient-centered approach toward asthma care coordination and self-management education in the ED.

Everyone agrees that the goal is to avoid ED visits but how exactly we can best achieve that is, as of yet, unknown. Interventions that link care coordination across the health and community sectors may be one way.  Indeed, there’s still a lot of work to be done in order to determine whether such programs are effective, but this review provides a solid basis for further progress.  

Patient-centered outcomes research to improve asthma outcomes

Asthma is a devastating chronic disease that affects up to 24 million Americans.  It is more severe and prevalent among African Americans and Hispanics, especially Puerto Ricans.  There’s a two-fold increase in asthma mortality in Hispanic children and three-fold among African Americans, compared to Whites.  The causes of these disparities are complex, but are undoubtedly worsened by the observation that they are less likely to be treated according to the National Asthma Education Prevention Program (NAEPP) guidelines, which have been widely available for the past 20 years.  To address these issues, the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) funded 8 studies to help patients and clinicians adhere to the guidelines.  In this month’s issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Anise and colleagues review these 8 randomized control trials (J Allergy Clin Immunol 2016; 138(6): 1503-1510).

Among the approaches being used are (1) clinician education, (2) clinical decision support, (3) patient education in the ER and clinic, (4) use of community health workers, and (5) use of long-term and quick-relief medications.    While each study has a distinct focus, all of them overlap in incorporating relevant stakeholders into the projects, and aligning local resources towards overarching, generalizable goals. 

The research projects are still underway, and results will not be available for at least two more years.  But these research projects are pioneering in the way that they are putting research in action in local communities, and embracing multi-faceted approaches with the understanding that single interventions may not be effective.

Home visits are needed to address asthma health disparities in adults

Asthma is a huge public health problem in the United States today.  But all asthmatics are not affected equally – there are a lot of disparities in asthma care.  In this month’s issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Bryant-Stephens and colleagues describe the need for home visits to address these asthma health disparities (J Allergy Clin Immunol 2016; 138(6): 1526-1530).  They note that most of the research on asthma so far has been on patients who go to clinics.  This has meant that people who have problems getting to the clinic, like the elderly, disabled, and those with other chronic conditions are often left out.  To help prevent overlooking these blindspots, they advocate for the involvement of community health workers.  In particular, they describe the experiences of three community health workers when they visited patients.  They found that the challenges at home are often overwhelming.  Social stressors in patients’ lives can be major problems interfering with their ability to take care of their asthma and other health problems. Community health workers may be used to provide resources to overcome these barriers and to encourage patients to adopt healthier habits, such as smoking reduction, and better communication with providers.   Even though home visits are not routine in clinical practice and are only rarely used in research settings, Bryant and colleagues suggest that there may be greater room for community health workers.  They recommend examination of the costs as well as benefits, and identifying vulnerable patients who would be best managed in this way.  They conclude that there needs to be better understanding of the barriers to optimal asthma management, so that these disparities can be addressed directly.