Annual WCC Visits Significantly Limit Asthma Worsening

Jill Pivovarov

January 07, 2021

There is a significant association between routine attendance at annual well-child care visits and a reduction in both total asthma exacerbations and severe exacerbations, Jason E. Lang, MD, MPH, of Duke University, Durham, N.C. reported in a study published in Pediatrics.

In a retrospective cohort study of 5,656 pediatric asthma patients under care at the Duke University Health System, Lang and colleagues sought to determine the effect yearly well-child care (WCC) visits have on the hazard rate of asthma exacerbations occurring during the following year. Patients included in the study were aged 5-17 years and had been receiving care between Jan. 1, 2014, and Dec. 31, 2019.

WCC Visits Demonstrate Reduced Exacerbations and Hospitalizations

Nearly one-third of patients were found to have full WCC visit attendance, half were partially compliant, and 14% did not attend at all. A total of 2,974 asthma exacerbations were reported during the study period. Of those with a WCC visit during the previous year, exacerbations were reduced by 10% and asthma hospitalizations were lowered by 47%. Children with recent WCC visits were also more likely to be prescribed daily preventive medication and to experience an exacerbation in ambulatory care, which could play a crucial role in preventing further progression of the disease.

Of the WCC visits reported, 9.9% represented prescribing of new or changed asthma medication, 28.2% represented delivery of seasonal influenza vaccine, and 11% addressed assessment or management of asthma-related comorbidities. There was no observed difference in attendance between younger and older children.

Given that pediatric WCC visit attendance is "far from optimal," with attendance improving from 46% in 1996-1998 to almost 60% in 2007-2008, "improving access to and attendance of WCC visits (especially from previously low-adhering families) may be an important public health intervention to reduce the problems of severe exacerbations and outcome disparities," observed Lang and colleagues. The Abdus study also found that low WCC attendance appeared to be more common in those with lower income, lower parental education, and African American race.

Continuity of Care Providers Across WCC Visits Plays a Crucial Role

Primary care pediatricians play a key role in successful management of chronic asthma, as evidenced in several studies showing the importance of continuity of care with the same provider for WCC. Such continuity encourages ongoing dialogue about asthma, and as the researchers speculated, may even reduce asthma hospitalization through better parental understanding of disease management, prevention, and management of comorbid conditions.

Although the study did not include measures of health literacy, the authors did conclude that pediatric asthma patients seen annually are more likely to be more knowledgeable about asthma and in a better position to recognize symptom exacerbation so they can seek timely care. In the past, lower health literacy has demonstrated both lower WCC visit attendance and increased emergency care visits and hospitalizations.

Because the study was conducted in a single university-based health system, the researchers were not able to capture fragmented care data. They also acknowledged the possible omission of confounding factors, especially those related to parental influence behaviors affecting daily disease management. One strength of the study was the ability researchers had to abstract granular data from their EHR system to document the time-varying effects that insurance status, obesity status, and WCC visits may have played. Given that they were able to assess effects according to sociodemographic factors, such as race and insurance status, the results should prove very helpful to other cities and health systems aiming to improve pediatric asthma control, observed Lang and colleagues.

Future studies should seek to further evaluate the role of WCC visits in promoting asthma control. Making WCC visits a renewed public health priority offers the possibility to limit severe asthma exacerbations, the researchers advised.

In a separate interview, Sydney Leibel, MD, MPH, a pediatric allergist/immunologist at Rady Children's Hospital, San Diego, noted: "The outcomes of this study shine a light on the importance of regular primary care pediatrician follow-up in decreasing asthma-related health care utilization. Childhood asthma is a dynamic condition and follow-up with the pediatrician allows for modification of the treatment plan and reinforcement of good inhaler technique. It also allows for patients to express their concerns and gives the opportunity for subspecialty referral, if symptoms remain uncontrolled.

"This article also highlights the health disparities that exist in pediatric asthma in the United States. In our experience, treating children from lower-socioeconomic communities with difficult-to-control and severe asthma, case management has been very important in making sure our patient population understands our instructions, pick up their medications, and make their scheduled follow-up appointments," Leibel continued.

"Regardless of the patient's background, efforts to improve attendance of WCC visits, where good asthma control can be promoted, would be in our patient's best interest and could go a long way in preventing unnecessary asthma exacerbations that require an ED visit or hospitalization," the specialist concluded.

The study was funded by a grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, Duke Children's Health & Discovery Initiative, and the National Institutes of Health. Lang and colleagues had no conflicts of interest and no relevant financial disclosures. Leibel said he had no relevant financial disclosures.

SOURCE: Lang JE et al. Pediatrics. 2020. doi: 10.1542/peds.2020-1023.

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