Purpose: Excess morbidity and mortality due to asthma, aggravated by demonstrably poor patient self-management practices, suggest the need for formal patient education programs. Individual and group asthma education programs were developed and evaluated to determine their cognitive, behavioral, and clinical effects.
Patients and methods: We compared changes in asthma symptoms, utilization of medical services, knowledge about asthma, metered-dose inhaler (MDI) technique, and self-management behaviors for 323 adult Kaiser Permanente patients with moderate to severe asthma who were randomly assigned to small-group education, individual teaching, or 1 of 2 control conditions--an information (workbook) control or usual control (no formal asthma education). Data were collected from patients by questionnaire, diary, and physical examination at enrollment and at 5 months and 1 year after intervention. Medical record data on these patients were abstracted for a total 3-year period, from 1 year before to 2 years after enrollment.
Results: Compared with the usual control, the self-management education programs were associated with significant improvements in control of asthma symptoms (reduced "bother" due to asthma and increased symptom-free days), MDI technique, and environmental control practices. Small-group education also was associated with significant improvements in physician evaluation of the patients' asthma status and in patients' level of physical activity. For both group and individual education recipients, improvement in MDI technique was positively correlated with improved control of symptoms; however, the degree of improvement in symptoms was greater than that which could be accounted for on the basis of improvement in MDI technique alone. The time course over which changes occurred in the various outcome measures suggests the mechanism by which education resulted in improvement in the patient's status. Significant improvements in MDI technique and environmental control practices were manifest immediately following education (5-month follow-up) and at the 1-year follow-up. Significant improvements in symptom measures were not apparent until the 1-year follow-up. The rate of utilization of medical care for acute exacerbations decreased between baseline and the 2-year follow-up period, but this decrease did not differ significantly among treatment conditions. However, there was a trend toward greater reduction in patients receiving small-group education. An ad hoc finding of a significant difference favoring small-group education between the baseline and the second follow-up year acute visit rates was observed. This result must be regarded as tentative, since it is not clear that unambiguous statistical significance is attained in the light of multiplicity issues. However, this trend is consistent with the antecedent benefits of the small-group education, and appears to warrant further investigation.
Conclusions: Carefully designed asthma education programs for adults can improve patients' understanding of their condition and its treatment and increase their motivation and confidence that the condition can be controlled, thereby increasing their adherence to the treatment regimen and management of symptoms, and, in turn, improving control of symptoms. Both small-group education and individual education were associated with significant benefits, but the group program was simpler to administer, better received by patients and educators, and more cost-effective. The results show promise for improving clinical outcomes, through well-designed educational programs, for patients with asthma and other chronic health problems.