Sometimes the smallest ideas can have the greatest impact. When my medical director suggested creating a bulletin board featuring an “Asthma Star,” I thought the request was simple enough. The Asthma Center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Hughes Spalding is certainly familiar with empowering our patients and families to take control of their asthma, but would a bulletin board really make a difference? Probably not.
Step one: What makes Someone an Asthma Star? They needed to be simple, achievable things that our patients could do to better care for, and thus better control, their asthma. Here’s the list our team of pediatric asthma specialists came up with:
- Take your controller medicines every day.
- Come to your appointments.
- Recognize your early warning signs.
- Start your quick relief medicine when you notice early warning signs.
- Pre-treat before exercise or a known trigger.
- Follow your Asthma Action Plan.
- Call the Asthma Center if you have trouble following your Asthma Action Plan.
- Always carry your quick relief medicine and spacer.
- Always use your spacer.
- Ask questions.
- Take CONTROL of your asthma.
Seemed like a pretty good list.
Step two: Who should the 1st Asthma Star Be? After much debate, we settled on Kenyada, an 18-year-old who had suffered with asthma since she was very young. She spent a lot of her life with uncontrolled asthma, not taking her medications and not seeming to care too much about making changes to improve her asthma management. Then something clicked and she really started to improve. I hoped to capture some of what “clicked” in my short interview with her.
What was your life like before you started coming to the Asthma Center?
“Winter is my worst season. I used to go to the emergency room twice a week, sometimes having to spend the night in the hospital. I missed a lot of school. When I did go, I wasn’t able to focus. I couldn’t hang out with my friends like I wanted to.”
And what about now that you’ve been coming and you’ve taken control of your asthma?
“I rarely have to go to the emergency room for my asthma. I don’t miss as much school. My grades are better and I’m able to hang out with my friends without having to worry about my asthma.”
How do you think the Asthma Center helped you?
“The Asthma Center really encouraged me to keep track of my medicines and take them like I’m supposed to. They also taught me how to know when I need to start my quick-relief medicines to help prevent a bad asthma attack.”
Do you have any advice for other teenagers that are working on getting control of your asthma?
“Listen to the doctors. And try to take your medicine every day.”
Wow. Well, with Kenyada’s story, maybe this board might make a difference with a few patients. She was so insightful and honest about her experience.
Ok, so we have what it takes to become an asthma star and we have our interview and picture with our 1st asthma star. Place it all on the board and wait.
Then patients started asking questions. They’d leave the Pulmonary Function Testing (PFT) lab and say, “What’s this? I want to be on the bulletin board! How can I be an Asthma Star?” And these weren’t the kids that are already in control of their asthma. These were the kids that are consistently uncontrolled, managing their asthma crisis to crisis and admitting that they don’t take their controllers every day, living on albuterol.
So how is it that the board was so effective for some of our patients? I think that presenting information in different ways is important. Our patients could choose whether or not to read the board (in a place where, let’s face it, they don’t have a lot of choices). And then, when they come in for their next appointments, they’re telling us all the things they’ve done to prove that they should be the next Asthma Star! A little competition seems to go a long way in this case.
So the point of my story is that there are lots of really complex, expensive things that we can do to impact patient engagement. And then there are really simple, inexpensive things we can do. Take a look around, think about your goals, and think outside of the box. How might you take a simple idea, like a bulletin board, and turn it into a catalyst for patient engagement and improved quality of life?
Editor’s Note: You can read about this and other initiatives Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Asthma Center has put in place to help their pediatric patients better manage their condtion in this week’s Patient Engagement in Action story.