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American Lung Association wants to help St. Louis clinics improve asthma outcomes for children

Child receiving asthma treatment.
Kristy Faith via Flickr

St. Louis area pediatricians will soon have help managing asthma care for their patients. The American Lung Association is implementing a program here to improve the system that primary care clinics use to identify and treat the disease.

The Enhancing Asthma Care for Children program has measurably reduced asthma symptoms for patients in other cities where it has been introduced, said Jill Heins, director of respiratory health for the American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest.

Heins said the program helps doctors create a work-flow process to improve diagnoses and treatment. The program also helps clinics identify environmental allergens affecting children’s asthma and set up asthma action plans with the child’s family.

“Health care professionals have amazing knowledge around the diagnosis and management of asthma (but) they often work in systems where they’re not able to make asthma management work in the flow,” Heins explained.

With better systems in place, children can breathe better and live fuller lives, she added.

“When they can breathe easier, they have fewer symptoms so they can go outside and play recess, they can play in sports, they can do physical activity. When they are in the classroom they can actually concentrate,” Heins said.  

Heins said another goal of the program is to reduce emergency room visits, which has two benefits: healthier children and lower health care costs.

United Health Foundation, the charitable arm of insurance provider UnitedHealthcare, is giving the American Lung Association $2 million to bring the Enhancing Asthma Care for Children program to St. Louis and four other metro areas in the association’s Upper Midwest region. The plan is to partner with at least 5 primary clinics a year in each metro area for a total of 15 clinics per city over the course of three years.

According to Washington University pulmonologist Mario Castro, the American Lung Association program is a good fit for St. Louis because many area children aren’t being diagnosed and treated correctly.  

He recently completed a study of children in St. Louis with asthma for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We found that often health care providers under-recognized asthma as well as under-recognized the severity of that asthma. Some children with severe asthma, in fact, had about a one out of four chance of being appropriately treated based on the national asthma guidelines,” Castro said.

Castro said a correct diagnosis and an asthma action plan can help children stay healthy and out of the hospital.

“Unfortunately we have a huge asthma problem in St. Louis,” he said. “There are a substantial number of kids out there with asthma, and a lot of these children unfortunately end up in our emergency rooms.”

Castro is on the national board of directors for the American Lung Association.

Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.