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Asthma researchers develop electronic care guide for family docs

University collaborates on province-wide initiative to help kids with asthma stay healthy
March 23, 2016
Dr. David Johnson, (left) with seven-year-old Noah White and his mom Erin White. A new electronic care guide Dr. Johnson co-developed will help Noah with allergy-related asthma that requires a daily regime of inhalers and steroids.

Dr. David Johnson, left, of the Cumming School of Medicine, with seven-year-old Noah White and his mom Erin White. A new electronic care guide Dr. Johnson co-developed will help Noah with allergy-related asthma that requires a daily regime of inhalers and steroids.

Children with asthma could soon be breathing easier thanks to new research that promises to put a treatment guide directly into their electronic medical record with their family physician to ensure they receive the best evidence-based care.

The Alberta Primary Care Pathway for Childhood Asthma — funded by a $750,000 grant from the Partnership for Research and Innovation between Alberta Health Services (AHS) and Alberta Innovates Health Solutions (AIHS) — will introduce this innovative mechanism to 22 medical practices across the province as a trial run to assess its benefits in managing childhood asthma in primary care settings. If the results are positive, a full provincial rollout is envisioned.

The three-year study from researchers at the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta is designed to help health professionals prescribe the right medication and to encourage parents to fill and use their child’s prescription properly. To this end, doctors will be given a “decision-making tree” right in the child's electronic medical record to help make their diagnosis while their staff will receive more training to provide education on asthma treatments.

Easy-to-use electronic tool will help practitioners educate parents

“By ensuring that family practitioners have a convenient tool that helps them provide the optimal therapy, and by instructing the chronic-disease nurses in family practitioners’ offices on how to best educate parents to manage their kids with asthma, we offer the best chance to prevent kids from having to visit Emergency or be hospitalized,” says Dr. David Johnson, senior medical director of the AHS Maternal, Neonatal, Child and Youth Strategic Clinical Network, and professor of paediatrics, pharmacology and physiology at the University of Calgary, Cumming School of Medicine.

“What we’re attempting to improve is physician and parent management of asthma for their children,” says Dr. Andrew Cave, a family physician and professor of family medicine at the University of Alberta. “So we developed a template that can be inserted into a patient’s electronic records for the doctor; they can click on it when a child with asthma comes through, and follow the path so the patient gets managed ideally.”

Health system improvements driven by research

Drs. Cave and Johnson, who lead the project, are also both members the AHS Respiratory Health Strategic Clinical Network — the driving force behind the grant application — and a province-wide team which helps guide clinical research and care in Alberta.

“Changing the way the health system solves complicated problems, comes from research. The work that Drs. Andrew Cave and David Johnson are doing underscores this,” says Dr. Pamela Valentine, interim CEO of Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions. “Asthma can cause a lifetime of suffering.  Using evidence to inform a solution to the problem, ultimately leads to improved health both for Albertans and people around the world.”

As well as nurses, pharmacists and other clinicians will also be trained to talk with parents — many of whom fail to pick up or understand the importance of their child’s prescription — and address their concerns over cost and assure them of the safety of steroid-based medications.