Study objective: We surveyed emergency department-based asthma researchers to study the presence of formal asthma education programs (AEPs), and examined data from prospective cohort studies to compare sites with and without AEPs.
Methods: We contacted site investigators in the Multicenter Airway Research Collaboration (MARC) in July 1998 by mail, fax, or telephone. Main outcomes were the percentage of sites using AEPs and the percentage of AEPs using each of 7 "key" teaching items in national guidelines. MARC data provided site and patient characteristics.
Results: All 77 site investigators (100%) responded to the survey. Using a scale from 1 to 5 (mean+/-SD), respondents identified instruction in proper inhaler technique (4.8+/-0.5), "spacer" use (4.3+/-0.7), recognition of asthma triggers (4.3+/-0.8), and rationale for medications (4. 6+/-0.6) as priorities for teaching. Twelve sites (16%; 95% confidence interval [CI] 8% to 26%) had AEPs; most (8) were at pediatric sites. Patients presenting to sites with AEPs were younger (22+/-16 years versus 25+/-15 years, P <.001), more likely to be uninsured (26% versus 23%, P <.001), and less likely to be taking inhaled corticosteroids (30% versus 37%, P <.001). AEP sites uniformly stressed "key" items, except for "written action plan" (50% of sites) and "peak flow diary" (33% of sites).
Conclusion: Although asthma researchers agree that patient education is very important, few EDs involved in asthma research use AEPs. Sites with AEPs appear to serve patients at higher risk of poor asthma outcomes. Further study is needed to address the effectiveness of AEPs in the ED.