A randomized clinical trial of clinician feedback to improve quality of care for inner-city children with asthma

Meyer Kattan, Ellen F Crain, Suzanne Steinbach, Cynthia M Visness, Michelle Walter, James W Stout, Richard Evans, Ernestine Smartt, Rebecca S Gruchalla, Wayne J Morgan, George T O'Connor, Herman E Mitchell
Pediatrics 2006, 117 (6): e1095-103

CONTEXT: Barriers impede translating recommendations for asthma treatment into practice, particularly in inner cities where asthma morbidity is highest.

METHODS: The purpose of this study was to test the effectiveness of timely patient feedback in the form of a letter providing recent patient-specific symptoms, medication, and health service use combined with guideline-based recommendations for changes in therapy on improving the quality of asthma care by inner-city primary care providers and on resultant asthma morbidity. This was a randomized, controlled clinical trial in 5- to 11-year-old children (n = 937) with moderate to severe asthma receiving health care in hospital- and community-based clinics and private practices in 7 inner-city urban areas. The caretaker of each child received a bimonthly telephone call to collect clinical information about the child's asthma. For a full year, the providers of intervention group children received bimonthly computer-generated letters based on these calls summarizing the child's asthma symptoms, health service use, and medication use with a corresponding recommendation to step up or step down medications. We measured the number and proportion of scheduled visits resulting in stepping up of medications, asthma symptoms (2-week recall), and health care use (2-month recall).

RESULTS: In this population, only a modest proportion of children whose symptoms warranted a medication increase actually had a scheduled visit to reevaluate their asthma treatment. However, in the 2-month interval after receipt of a step-up letter, 17.1% of the letters were followed by scheduled visits in the intervention group compared with scheduled visits 12.3% of the time by the control children with comparable clinical symptoms. Asthma medications were stepped up when indicated after 46.0% of these visits in the intervention group compared with 35.6% in the control group, and when asthma symptoms warranted a step up in therapy, medication changes occurred earlier among the intervention children. Among children whose medications were stepped up at any time during the 12-month study period, those in the intervention group experienced 22.1% fewer symptom days and 37.9% fewer school days missed. The intention-to-treat analysis showed no difference over the intervention year in the number of symptom days, yet there was a trend toward fewer days of limited activity and a significant decrease in emergency department visits by the intervention group compared with controls. This 24% drop in emergency department visits resulted in an intervention that was cost saving in its first year.

CONCLUSIONS: Patient-specific feedback to inner-city providers increased scheduled asthma visits, increased asthma visits in which medications were stepped up when clinically indicated, and reduced emergency department visits.

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