Background: Dependence on crisis-oriented care rather than continuous ambulatory care for asthma is thought to contribute to asthma morbidity and mortality. We contrasted the characteristics of patients who depend on emergency department (ED) care for the management of their asthma exacerbations to the characteristics of patients employing self-management plans in an ambulatory setting.
Methods: In prospective fashion, we used a structured interview and charted information to survey two cohorts of patients suffering from an acute exacerbation of asthma; those seen in a hospital ED (n = 80) and those seen in an ambulatory asthma care facility (Asthma Center [AC]) (n = 40) at the same hospital. We looked for differences in socioeconomic characteristics, asthma severity, asthma knowledge, and asthma self-management skills between groups.
Results: There were no significant differences in mean age (SD) (ED vs AC: 36.65 [13.8] vs 40 [13.8] years) or female to male ratio (ED vs AC: 2/1 vs 2.5/1) between the two groups. There were no major differences in ethnic origin, educational status, marital status, smoking history, employment status, number of children in the household, possession of an extended health insurance plan, sick leave benefits, and child care availability between the two groups. Patients seeking ED care were more likely to have resided in the city for < 5 years (34% vs 8%; p < 0.05), and more likely to be living alone (35% vs 15%; p < 0.05). Significantly more patients from the ED group had a below average gross annual income (55% vs 3%; p < 0.05). There were several significant differences between groups in their knowledge of asthma and its therapy. Most striking, 79% of AC patients reported having a predetermined crisis plan vs just 23% of ED patients (p < 0.001). Although measurements of airflow (percent predicted FEV1) were significantly lower in the ED group than the AC group (mean, 50% vs 78.4%; p < 0.001), other indexes reflecting the degree of asthma severity over the long term such as past use of oral steroids, history of hospitalization, or ICU admission for asthma and the mean total days of disability within the preceding year were not significantly different between the two groups. Most of the ED patients had more than one previous visit to the ED for asthma exacerbation within the preceding year while most exacerbations of AC patients had been treated in the ambulatory care setting. Only 17% of ED patients initiated or increased inhaled or oral steroids before seeking medical care vs 89% of AC patients (p < 0.001).
Conclusion: We conclude that a subgroup of asthmatics depends primarily on crisis-oriented care for the management of asthma. These patients are more likely to have lower income, to live alone, and to have resided at their current address for less time than patients seeking less urgent ambulatory care. Moreover, such patients are less knowledgeable about asthma and its management and are less likely to have a predetermined crisis plan.