Objective: To explore the reasons why individuals recurrently present with asthma to hospital emergency departments.
Design: A predominantly qualitative study in which participants were interviewed in-depth about their asthma. Data on medication use, respiratory health and asthma knowledge were also collected, and asthma severity was determined from medical records.
Setting: A tertiary teaching hospital and a suburban hospital emergency department (ED) from 1 March to 30 April 2000, and a rural hospital ED from 1 July to 31 August 2000.
Participants: The participation rate was 32% of an initial 195 ED attendees (183 of whom were eligible) aged 18-70 years: 32 had presented to an ED for asthma care on more than one occasion over the preceding 12 months (reattendees), and 29 were non-reattendees.
Results: Two-thirds (22/32) of reattendees had chronic severe asthma and presentation to ED was deemed appropriate for 18 of these, indicated by recurrent severe asthma attacks despite seeking prior medical intervention. Reasons for re-presentation identified in a third of all reattendees included poor asthma knowledge, and financial and other barriers to medication use.
Conclusions: We identified potentially preventable issues in about a third of patients (most of whom had mild to moderate asthma) who recurrently presented to EDs for treatment. The remainder of the participants sought emergency asthma treatment appropriately after failing to respond to medical care, and this was frequently in accordance with their asthma management plans.