With kids, asthma, and ERs, ‘meds in hand’ can really matter

doctor_with_patientWith almost 1 in 8 children in the United States suffering from asthma or its symptoms, any step that reduces the need for kids and their parents to seek emergency room care ought to be welcome. And a new study, albeit relatively small, suggests that a straight-forward, common sense step might be useful: Don’t just give those sick kids and their parents a prescription, give them the actual asthma medication when you send them home. That can help prevent their coming back to the ER.

Researchers in Boston decided they needed to try a different approach after they found that a third of the youngsters they were treating on a costly, emergency basis had, with their parents, failed to fill their prescriptions for asthma-fighting drugs in a timely way. That meant many returned for care.

So for two years researchers tried to get emergency doctors to provide pediatric asthma meds to their patients three quarters of the time. They hoped to get them to explain their use, too, increasing the likelihood they would be. In turn, they found that patients with “meds in hand” were 78 percent less likely to make a return ER visit within a month, the researchers reported in the journal Pediatrics.

A researcher involved said the study was small but their work “shows that a fairly simple intervention can be administered by the inpatient team to help decrease future emergency department visits for patients with asthma.”

Childhood asthma rates

After rising for decades, the number of children with asthma recently stopped increasing and may have started falling, published research shows. The percentage of U.S. children with asthma doubled in the 1980s and 1990s and had been increasing steadily since then. In 2011-2013, as many as 1 in 10 children suffered from the disease and its symptoms, and the struggles of black children and poor youngsters in urban areas with the condition was particularly acute.

Experts aren’t certain what factors worsen asthma’s incidence among minorities and the poor. Bad living conditions, including greater exposure to environmental toxins like chemicals and air pollution, may be to blame; poverty’s stress also may contribute. In Los Angeles, researchers are finding that tackling the condition’s causative factors can get complex because it can lead health advocates into dealing with issues like substandard housing, where mold and insect infestations are common, and may be worsening kids’ asthma.

Asthma, experts say, costs the United States $56 billion each year. The average yearly cost of care for a child with asthma was $1,039 in 2009. In 2008, asthma caused: 10.5 million missed days of school, and 14.2 million missed days of work.

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