Introduction: Few studies have closely explored how well physicians who consider themselves specialists in asthma adhere to national guideline recommendations for the diagnosis and treatment of asthma. The purpose of this study is to characterize current knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and self-reported treatment practices of the asthma specialists working in one large metropolitan area.
Methods: In 1997, a cross-sectional survey was mailed to asthma specialists (allergists or pulmonologists) engaged in direct patient care with a practice location in the Chicago area (Cook County or one of the five surrounding counties). An approximately 50% random sample of asthma specialists was surveyed. The survey included items on (1) asthma diagnosis; (2) clinical monitoring of asthma patients; (3) pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic asthma treatment; (4) opinions and beliefs about asthma treatment options and reasons for referrals; (5) involvement in continuing medical education; (6) experiences with managed care; (7) use of asthma practice guidelines; (8) demographic information about the respondents; and (9) characteristics of the practice settings.
Results: A total of 113 eligible surveys were returned (response rate, 72.0%). Ninety-nine percent of the respondents indicated they would prescribe inhaled corticosteroids for patients > or = 5 years old with moderate persistent asthma, and 85.5% would prescribe them for patients < 5 years old. The respondents reported that 71.2% of their patients with moderate or severe persistent asthma were routinely given written treatment plans. The use of these plans was reported more frequently by allergists than pulmonologists (77.6% vs 58.9%, p = 0.01). Nearly half of the respondents were involved in the development of hospital-based asthma programs; fewer (14.9%) were involved in developing asthma programs for managed care organizations. A majority (63.4%) of the physicians had given a formal professional education presentation on asthma in the past year. A majority of the respondents who care for patients under managed care contracts reported that these patients have encountered barriers to access in seeking specialty care.
Conclusion: The results suggest that asthma specialists in the Chicago area are providing asthma care that is, in many ways, consistent with national guidelines. However, there are also important differences in care that are not consistent with the guideline recommendations. Perhaps even more notable are differences in reported asthma care between the two subspecialty groups of allergists and pulmonologists. The effect of these differences on the management of persons with asthma is not known. It is hoped that information from this community-based survey will serve to catalyze discussions among Chicago-area asthma specialists as to how they might envision improving care for persons with asthma in their community.