ED visits, hospitalizations for pediatric asthma reduced

January 31, 2013

AHS program gives families, health providers tools they need to control condition

CALGARY – Children with asthma are now breathing a little easier thanks to an Alberta Health Services (AHS) program that has greatly reduced their need for emergency department care and hospitalization.

The Community Pediatric Asthma Service was launched in 2005 with the goal of helping patients and their families better manage the chronic condition, and current statistics show the service is meeting its goal.

About 1,350 children visited the Alberta Children’s Hospital (ACH) emergency department last year for an asthma-related concern, down from nearly 2,975 seven years ago, a 54 per cent decrease. During the same period, the number of asthma-related hospital admissions to ACH has also dropped – from 303 to 169, a 44 per cent decrease.

“Asthma was one of the top reasons for pediatric emergency room visits and inpatient admissions for children aged one to nine in the Calgary Zone of AHS,” says pediatric respirologist Dr. Mary Noseworthy, Asthma Director of ACH. “Despite a growing pediatric asthma population in the Calgary Zone, pediatric asthma visits to the Emergency Department at ACH have decreased from the second most common reason in 2005 to the ninth. This service is a tremendous success.”

The program – believed to be the first of its kind in Canada – invites patients and their families to one-hour education sessions with certified respiratory educators, who share information about asthma diagnosis, triggers, medication and devices. The educators also develop personalized ‘action plans’ to help each family keep asthma under control.

To date, the service’s five respiratory educators have delivered more than 11,000 sessions across the Calgary Zone to patients and their families, as well as services to family physicians, physician trainees, community health nurses, pharmacists, teachers and daycare staff.

“We have made great strides in educating health providers in the community, allowing  more children with asthma to be managed close to home rather than the hospital,” says program co-ordinator Shirley van de Wetering.

Dr. Noseworthy says this means patients with less severe asthma can now be put directly into the care of community health providers rather than visiting the specialty clinic at ACH.

“It’s virtually eliminated wait lists for asthma patients to see a specialist,” she says.

Calgary mother Tamara Cohos says the program has helped “restore normalcy” within her family. Her 12-year-old son, Bram Bouma, has lived with asthma for more than half of his life. He has visited the Emergency Department several times for his asthma and was hospitalized several years ago for severe complications related to his condition. Through the program, Bouma now follows an established medication routine that has kept his asthma in check.

“In the past, when Bram has been sick, it almost always triggered an asthma attack,” says Cohos. “Now it’s different. Bram just got over a bad illness and had no asthma-related symptoms at all.”

“I feel so much better,” adds Bram, “and I am so glad I went to these sessions to learn what to do to help myself.”

Physicians can refer to the Community Pediatric Asthma Service by visiting

AHS’ Respiratory Clinical Network is sharing provincewide advances in pediatric asthma care, including the work of this clinic, for the benefit of all Albertans.

The Respiratory Clinical Network is also piloting a childhood asthma care pathway at Medicine Hat Regional Hospital with the goal of rolling it out to several other hospitals in the AHS South Zone this spring.

The Respiratory Clinical Network one of AHS’ Strategic Clinical Networks (SCNs), which are provincewide teams of health care professionals, researchers, community leaders, patients and policy makers. Each SCN is working to reshape health care in different areas of health or service that will enhance the patient journey, improve outcomes and standardize care delivery across the province.

Alberta Health Services is the provincial health authority responsible for planning and delivering health supports and services for more than 3.8 million adults and children living in Alberta. Its mission is to provide a patient-focused, quality health system that is accessible and sustainable for all Albertans.

- 30 -