Scheduled follow-up after a pediatric emergency department visit for asthma: a randomized trial

Joseph J Zorc, Richard J Scarfone, Yuelin Li, Travis Hong, Melina Harmelin, Lev Grunstein, Jalal B Andre et al.
Pediatrics 2003, 111 (3): 495-502

OBJECTIVES: Follow-up with a primary care provider (PCP) is recommended after an emergency department (ED) visit for asthma to assess clinical status and develop a management plan to improve future care. However, previous ED-based studies of urban children with asthma have reported low follow-up rates. The objective of this study was to determine whether scheduling an appointment at the time of an ED visit improves PCP follow-up for urban children. A secondary goal was to assess the effect of this intervention on short-term health outcomes and the use of recommended preventive controller medications.

METHODS: This randomized trial enrolled a convenience sample of children who were 2 to 18 years old and discharged after treatment for acute asthma in an urban children's hospital ED. Both intervention and control subjects were instructed to follow up with their PCP within 3 to 5 days. Study staff assisted intervention subjects to call their PCP from the ED and schedule an appointment. When follow-up could not be scheduled, assistance continued after ED discharge by telephone until an appointment date was confirmed. Study outcomes included PCP visits, asthma-related morbidity, and daily use of preventive medication 4 weeks after the ED visit. Outcomes were assessed by telephone interview and confirmed by PCP record review.

RESULTS: A total of 278 eligible subjects were enrolled over 8 months; intervention and control groups were similar by demographic variables and PCP type as well as by asthma history, symptoms, and previous medication use. Only 38% of subjects reported using a daily controller medication, although 70% described persistent asthma symptoms for which these are recommended. For the intervention group, follow-up appointments were successfully obtained during the ED visit for 24% of subjects; when unsuccessful, a median of 3 telephone calls (range: 1-14) were needed to confirm that an appointment had been scheduled. During the 4 weeks after the ED visit, intervention subjects were more likely than controls to follow up with their PCP (64% vs 46%; relative probability for follow-up: 1.4; 95% confidence interval: 1.1-1.7). Study groups did not differ in return ED visits, missed school or work, or the percentage reporting daily use of a controller medication (58% vs 54%) 4 weeks after the ED visit. The median time to the next PCP visit was shorter among intervention subjects (13 vs 54 days).

CONCLUSIONS: Scheduling an appointment after an ED visit increased the likelihood that urban children with asthma would follow up with a PCP. An appointment could not be obtained during the ED visit for most children. Other interventions are needed to improve linkage between ED and primary care for asthma and to improve the use of controller medications.

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