Objective: To determine self-reported adherence to national asthma guidelines for children by primary care physicians in managed care; and, to analyze sources of variation in these practices by physician specialty and managed care practice type.
Design: A survey of 671 primary care physicians (pediatricians and family physicians) practicing in 3 geographically diverse managed care organizations (MCO). Domains of interest included asthma diagnosis, pharmacotherapy, patient education and follow-up, and indications for specialty referral. Item formats included self-reports of usual practice and responses to case vignettes.
Results: A total of 429 (64%) physicians returned surveys, 22 of whom did not meet criteria for inclusion in the analysis. Most respondents had both heard of (91%) and read (72%) the National Asthma Education and Prevention Program (NAEPP) guidelines. For diagnosis, 75% reported routine use of office peak flow measurement, but only 21% used spirometry routinely. Family physicians were more likely than pediatricians to use spirometry in diagnosis (odds ratio [OR] = 5.9), and less likely to recommend daily peak flow measurement (OR =.3). The median reported frequency of providing written care plans was only 50%. Though inhaled corticosteroids were deemed very safe or safe by 93%, almost half had specific concerns regarding at least 1 side effect, most commonly growth delay. Primary care physicians' criteria for referral to an asthma specialist differed from those of the NAEPP panel in choosing to manage more severe patients without asthma specialist input. Family physicians were more likely than pediatricians to refer a child after a single hospitalization, 2 to 3 emergency department visits, after 2 exacerbations, or if the child was <3 years old and required daily medications. Responses to vignettes showed generally appropriate initial use of antiinflammatory agents, but reluctance to increase the dose in response to continued symptoms, and less frequent follow-up than recommended by the NAEPP.
Conclusion: Most physicians for children report having read and adopted NAEPP guideline recommendations for asthma treatment, including generally appropriate use of medications. Opportunities for improvement exist in specific areas such as the use of written care plans, optimizing antiinflammatory dosing, and providing routine follow-up. Although physicians show evidence of awareness of national guidelines and knowledge consistent with much of their content, additional work is required to promote the use of self-management tools in practice.