Background: We know little about the activities that occur during asthma-related visits with primary care physicians. A better understanding of how time is spent during visits for asthma may facilitate the design of programs to enhance asthma disease management.
Objective: To describe the content of asthma visits made to family physicians.
Methods: Research nurses directly observed consecutive outpatient visits during two separate days in the offices of 138 community family physicians. Time was classified into 20 different behavioral categories using the Davis Observation Code, and compared for visits for asthma, visits for other chronic conditions, and visits for non-asthma-related acute illnesses during 3035 visits by patients of all ages.
Results: Visits for asthma shared several characteristics with visits for other chronic conditions but were longer than visits for other chronic illnesses or for acute illness. Asthma visits were distinguished from both acute care and other chronic care visits by a greater percentage of time spent discussing patient compliance, evaluating patient knowledge, and providing smoking assessment and cessation advice.
Conclusions: Visits for asthma are structured differently than acute care visits and specifically address issues important to asthma self-management. Future quality improvement initiatives should recognize, affirm, and enhance many current behaviors by family physicians, while working to expand specific areas of care that still fall short of asthma care guidelines.