Comparison of parent knowledge, therapy utilization and severity of atopic eczema before and after explanation and demonstration of topical therapies by a specialist dermatology nurse

Br J Dermatol. 2003 Sep;149(3):582-9. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2133.2003.05595.x.


Background: The failure of patients to take medicines in a way that leads to clinical benefit is a major challenge. A consensus has emerged that, on average, compliance sufficient to obtain therapeutic objectives occurs about half the time, with noncompliance contributing to therapeutic failure in the other half. These figures refer to simple oral regimens. There has been little work assessing compliance/concordance with complex treatment regimens for atopic eczema. Asthma schools led by specialist nurses have been shown to improve knowledge, use of therapies and clinical outcome.

Objectives: To determine the effect of education and demonstration of topical therapies by specialist dermatology nurses on therapy utilization and severity of atopic eczema.

Methods: Fifty-one children with atopic eczema attending a paediatric dermatology clinic were followed for up to 1 year. At each visit the parent's knowledge about atopic eczema and its treatment and therapy utilization was recorded. The severity of the eczema was recorded using the six area, six sign atopic dermatitis severity score (SASSAD) and parental assessment of itch, sleep disturbance and irritability. At the first visit a specialist dermatology nurse explained and demonstrated how to use all of the topical treatments. This education was repeated at subsequent visits depending on the knowledge of the parent.

Results: At baseline less than 5% of parents had received/recalled receiving any explanation of the causes of eczema or demonstration of how to apply topical treatments. The eczema was poorly controlled in all children (mean SASSAD 42.9). Of the children, 24% were not being treated with any emollient cream/ointment; the mean use was 54 g weekly. Of the children, 25% were being inappropriately treated with potent or very potent topical steroids. Following repeated education and demonstration of topical therapies by a specialist dermatology nurse, there was an 89% reduction in the severity of the eczema. The main change in therapy utilization was an 800% increase in the use of emollients (to 426 g weekly of emollient cream/ointment) and no overall increase in the use of topical steroids, accounting for potency and quantity used.

Conclusions: This study reinforces the importance of specialist dermatology nurses in the management of atopic eczema. It also confirms the opinion of patients, patient support groups, dermatologists and best practice guidelines that the most important intervention in the management of atopic eczema is to spend time to listen and explain its causes and demonstrate how to apply topical therapies.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Topical
  • Adult
  • Child, Preschool
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / drug therapy
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / nursing*
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / psychology
  • Dermatologic Agents / administration & dosage
  • Emollients
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Health Education / methods
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Ointments
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Patient Compliance
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Dermatologic Agents
  • Emollients
  • Ointments