Breathing Life Into New UCSF Asthma Clinic

2009-08-20 11:18

More than 20 million Americans suffer from asthma, but hundreds of them now breathe more easily, thanks to a Monday morning asthma clinic that opened its doors in the UCSF Ambulatory Care Center in June 2008.

Combining expert consultation and self-management education services, the clinic emerged in large part from three evidence-based research studies led by clinician-researcher Susan Janson, a nurse practitioner.

Janson's studies are rooted in other established research that found patients better manage their chronic diseases when there is a strong patient-clinician relationship. With that understanding, Janson, professor and Harms/Alumnae Chair of the UCSF School of Nursing's Department of Community Health Systems, set out in 1993 to discover the most effective way for clinicians in such relationships to deliver the appropriate knowledge and skills about asthma within the constraints of today's health care delivery system.

Her first study — an open trial funded by the National Institute of Nursing Research — found that during a 30-minute clinic appointment, it was feasible for a nurse to perform an educational intervention that decreased symptoms and reduced biological markers of airway inflammation. The published trial not only encouraged Janson to push ahead, but also had important implications for reimbursement.

"Getting the teaching done in the context of a medical appointment makes it billable because the visit can be coded at the next-higher CPT code if you include teaching as part of total visit time," says Janson, who stresses that it can sometimes be a challenge to make patient education economically viable.

Her second study, funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), refined the standardized intervention and then tested it in a randomized clinical trial, which also was published. "We tracked study participants for adherence with their use of inhaled steroids, which they weren't using effectively before," says Janson.

For those educated in self-management, Janson's team documented improvement in adherence to inhaled corticosteroid medication and perceived control of asthma, as well as reduced biological markers of airway inflammation. The self-management group also had no emergency department visits for asthma. This is important not just for asthma patients, but also for the medical system as a whole, since every year, asthma cases account for about a quarter of all visits to the emergency room, one of the most expensive areas for delivering medical care.

The third study — also funded by the NHLBI and currently in press — was another randomized clinical trial, this time with a tailored version of the intervention that the team based on the patients' lung function, category of severity, allergen skin testing responses and specific inhaler technique.

"With personalization, the changes made were significantly greater for all the metrics, including maintenance of medication adherence over time and improvement in the markers of asthma control," says Janson, who served on the expert panel for the latest NHLBI Asthma Guidelines published in December 2007.

The new guidelines' focus on controlling asthma includes the use of asthma self-management education by certified asthma educators.


Applying Research

Janson used her study results as the blueprint for the self-management education services provided at the Monday morning asthma clinic. The services have five key components: education about the disease itself; education about how the medicines work; training in how to use the prescribed inhalers correctly; education about how to control aggravating environmental factors; and a personalized, written action plan.


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