The University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) recently reported that Jill Halterman, M.D., was awarded a $3.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to carry out research on preventive asthma intervention that will allow better management of the disease and reduce emergency hospital visits.
Asthma, a condition characterized by narrowed airways that make it hard to breathe, affects from 235 million to 330 million people worldwide as of 2011, according to the World Health Organization. In the U.S., it’s estimated that 1 child in 10 suffers from asthma, and asthma is the most common reason for admission to hospital emergency rooms. This makes up the largest portion of the estimated $50 billion annual direct healthcare costs related to asthma.
Halterman, a professor of pediatrics at UR Medicine’s Golisano Children’s Hospital, believes this could be avoided through appropriate preventive medications. “Asthma is the most common reason for a pediatric emergency visit,” she said in the URMC news release. “But many of these patients don’t end up getting the preventive medication they need after being discharged, and they wind up back in the emergency department again a month later.”
Emergency departments have always referred patients to their primary care physicians for long-term care. But many pediatric patients rely on emergency rooms for their healthcare due to financial or other reasons that make it difficult to get to their primary-care physicians.
This NIH-funded project will connect pediatric asthma patients with primary care providers via telemedicine for follow-ups after emergency room visits for asthma.
“It can be very challenging for families,” Halterman said. “A caregiver will have just taken unplanned time off of work to bring their child to the emergency room, and now they are expected to find additional time to bring their child in for a follow-up appointment.”
To save time for the parents and ensure easy access, the follow-up visits will be scheduled through telemedicine, and will take place in the child’s school health office. Additionally, through an established network between the Department of Pediatrics and the Rochester City School District, children who had emergency visits can be followed remotely by the pediatric provider during the school day at the school health office. The latter will allow the parents to return to work while communicating with the provider through teleconference or telephone.
Halterman believes this preventive method could be adopted by healthcare networks around the country to yield better follow-up results, and help children reduce their asthma recurrences and emergency department visits.