Background: Current asthma consensus guidelines recommend a series of criteria for determining whether asthma is controlled. It is not known whether physicians are using these criteria to assess treatment needs and how effective such assessments are compared with patient assessment of asthma control.
Objective: To compare the parameters used by physicians and patients with asthma to determine whether asthma control is acceptable, according to the current Canadian asthma consensus guidelines.
Data and methods: A total of 183 Canadian physicians, mostly general practitioners, evaluated 856 patients with mildly to moderately uncontrolled asthma who were not using anti-inflammatory medications at the time of entry in the study. Physician characteristics and patient demographics were obtained. The physicians completed two questionnaires, one assessing the level of asthma control of the patient on an ordinal scale from 1 (very poor) to 5 (very good) and another indicating the parameters that were used to evaluate this level of control. Patients answered an asthma control questionnaire identical to the one completed by the physician and completed a six-question asthma control questionnaire, with each question scored on a 0- to 6-point scale.
Results: Although according to current asthma guidelines all patients surveyed had uncontrolled asthma, 66.2% of patients and 43.3% of physicians rated control of asthma symptoms as adequate to very good. The average scores for patient- and physician-rated asthma control were 3.0 0.2 and 2.6 0.2, respectively. The average patient score on the Juniper asthma questionnaire was 12.2 6.3. Physicians used a mean of seven parameters to assess the patient's level of asthma control, mostly beta2-agonist need, followed by cough, wheezing, shortness of breath, limitation of physical activities and night-time awakenings. Pediatricians used cough more frequently as an evaluation parameter, and respirologists measured pulmonary function more often than other physcians. Some parameters not usually included in guideline criteria for control, such as fatigue, need to clear throat, colored sputum, headache and dizziness, were sometimes used by physicians. Only 10% and 18% of physicians used measurements of forced expiratory volume in 1 s and peak expiratory flow, respectively, in asthma control assessments.
Conclusions: The present study shows that the selection of asthma control criteria among physicians varies and is not always in keeping with current asthma guidelines. Both patients and physicians often consider asthma to be controlled, when according to current guidelines, it is not, and patients consider their asthma better controlled than do physicians. Objective measures of airflow obstruction are rarely used to assess asthma control. The present study stresses the need for improved dissemination - to both patients and physicians - of current recommendations on how asthma control should be determined.