School-Based Asthma Program Improves Care for Kids

Jeff Craven

May 06, 2021

Asthma care coordination for children can be improved through a school-based asthma program involving the child's school, their family, and clinicians, according to a recent presentation at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, held virtually this year.

"Partnerships among schools, families, and clinicians can be powerful agents to improve the recognition of childhood asthma symptoms, asthma diagnosis and in particular management," Sujani Kakumanu, MD, clinical associate professor of allergy and immunology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, said in her presentation. "Emergency treatment plans and asthma action plans, as well as comprehensive education for all school personnel and school environmental mitigation plans, are crucial to controlling asthma symptoms in schools."

The school is a unique location where families and clinicians can affect asthma outcomes because of the consistent amount of time a student spends there each day, Kakumanu explained, but everyone involved in allergy care for a child should be aware of and attempt to reduce environmental exposures and triggers found in schools that can worsen asthma, such as irritants, cleaning solutions, dust mites, pests, air pollution, and indoor air quality.

SAMPRO Expansion

In 2016, the AAAAI and National Association of School Nurses provided financial support for the School-based Asthma Management Program (SAMPRO). "The impetus behind this initiative was a recognition that coordination with schools was essential to controlling pediatric asthma care," Kakumanu said. Initially focusing on asthma alone, SAMPRO has since expanded to include resources for allergy and anaphylaxis and is known as the School-based Asthma, Allergy & Anaphylaxis Management Program (SA3MPRO).

SA3MPRO's first tenet is the need for an engaged circle of support that includes families, schools, and clinicians of children with asthma. "Establishing and maintaining a healthy circle of support is a critical component to a school-based asthma partnership. It requires an understanding of how care is delivered in clinics as well as in hospitals and at schools," Kakumanu said.

School nurses are uniquely positioned to help address gaps in care for children with asthma during the school day by administering medications and limiting the number of student absences caused by asthma. "In addition, school nurses and school personnel often provide key information to the health system about a student's health status that can impact their prescriptions and their medical care," she noted.

Setting an Action Plan

The second SA3MPRO tenet is the development of an asthma action plan by schools for situations when a child presents with urgent asthma symptoms that require quick action. SA3MPRO's asthma action plan describes a child's severity of asthma, known asthma triggers and what medications can be delivered at school, and how clinicians and schools can share HIPAA and FERPA-protected information.

Some programs are allowing school nurses to access electronic medical records to share information, Kakumanu said. UW Health at the University of Wisconsin developed the project, led by Kakumanu and Robert F. Lemanske Jr., MD, in 2017 that gave school nurses in the Madison Metropolitan School District access to the EMR. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program was linked to decreased prescriptions of steroids among pediatric clinicians, she said.

"This program allowed the quick and efficient delivery of asthma action plans to schools along with necessary authorizations, prescriptions and a consent to share information electronically. With this information and subsequent authorizations, the school nurses were able to update the school health record, manage symptoms at school as directed by the individualized asthma action plan, and coordinate school resources needed to care for the child asthma symptoms during the school day," Kakumanu said.

"This program also addressed a common barrier with school-based partnerships, which was the lack of efficient asynchronous communication, and it did this by including the ability of school nurses and clinicians to direct message each other within a protected EMR," she added. "In order to continue our support for families, there were also measures to include families with corresponding [EMR] messaging and with communication by phone."

Barriers in the program at UW Health included needing annual training, sustaining momentum for organizational support and interest, monitoring infrastructure, and maintaining documents. Other challenges were in the management of systems that facilitated messaging and the need to obtain additional electronic consents separately from written consents.

Training Vital

The third tenet in SA3MPRO is training, which should incorporate a recognition and treatment of asthma symptoms among school staff, students, and families; proper inhaler technique; how medical care will be delivered at the school and by whom; what emergency asthma symptoms look like; and a plan for getting the child to an emergency medical facility. "Regardless of the program that is chosen, asthma education should address health literacy and multiple multicultural beliefs and be delivered in the language that is appropriate for that school and that student body," Kakumanu said. "Teachers, janitors, school administrators, and all levels of school personnel should be educated on how to recognize and treat asthma symptoms, especially if a school nurse is not always available on site."

Marathon Not a Sprint

The last tenet in SA3MPRO is improving air quality and decreasing environmental exposure to triggers, which involves "the use of environmental recognition and mitigation plans to minimize the effect of allergens, irritants, and air pollutants within the outside and indoor environment that may affect a child with asthma during the school day."

While these measures may seem daunting, Kakumanu said the communities that have successfully implemented a SA3MPRO plan are ones that prioritized updated and accurate data, developed a team-based approach, and secured long-term funding for the program. "Important lessons for all of us in this work is remembering that it's a marathon and not a sprint, and that effective care coordination requires continual and consistent resources," she said.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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