BALTIMORE – Four out of five children with asthma didn’t have access to their medication at school because the proper paperwork was missing, according to a survey of 10 inner-city Milwaukee elementary schools.
The number of students who had the required physician-signed authorization forms remained low throughout the school year, said Dr. Santiago Encalada, a pulmonary fellow at the Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.
Dr. Encalada cited administrative hurdles, lack of standardization, and challenges in school-physician-family communication as barriers to children’s access to asthma medication at school. Although school nurses in Milwaukee have standing orders for emergency albuterol administration, they otherwise need physician signatures on school-generated forms to administer both rescue and prophylactic asthma administration.
In a study whose purpose was to assess the percentage of children with asthma who had appropriate orders on file in a sample of 10 Milwaukee inner-city schools, the schools had orders on file for just 11% of students, on average, at the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year. At the second assessment in January 2015, the average number of students with orders on file at each school had risen to 22%, with schools that had performed better earlier also showing greater gains at mid-year. However, the June 2015 assessment showed that the gains did not continue, with the schools’ aggregate average of 21% of students with appropriate orders showing no improvement from mid-year.
The number of students with asthma in schools varied from about 40 to nearly 200. Numbers varied through the school year as enrollments shifted in these high-need schools, said Dr. Encalada, who presented his findings during a poster session at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies. In general, the schools with lower enrollments tended to do better with having orders on file, although statistical analysis was not performed for this variable.
“On average, 80% of asthmatic students in the inner city schools we studied did not have school forms or orders available for life-saving asthma rescue medications, with significant variation between schools. Our findings show that access to even basic asthma care necessities are lagging for this vulnerable population, and a significant disparity exists even within this population,” said senior author Nicholas Antos*, associate director of the Cystic Fibrosis Center at Milwaukee’s Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.
In interviews and discussion with school nurses and physicians’ offices, Dr. Antos* and Dr. Encalada found that there were often simple but fundamental misunderstandings that impeded the proper flow of paperwork. For example, schools in Milwaukee do not have standardized forms that authorize administration of prescription medications at school, so forms may be confusing to providers and their staff. Privacy concerns sometimes impeded the ability of clinic staff to authorize treatment for students. Also, the inevitable shuffle of paperwork in school-aged families meant that the forms sometimes were simply lost on the way to school.
Understanding the barriers in the process both on the school side and in physician offices has helped Dr. Antos*, Dr. Encalada, and their colleagues to start to build a better pathway. For example, a module has been built into the EHR asthma visit template that allows easy generation of a school form and asks for patient consent for release of information to the schools.
Dr. Antos* said in an interview that the work is ongoing: “To help address these problems, we have devised interventions to improve the way school nurses can contact clinicians, and helped design innovative standardized Asthma Action Plans that can double as school orders.”
In addition to working with local providers and schools, Dr. Encalada and Dr. Antos* have reached out to pediatric societies and the American Academy of Asthma, Allergy, and Immunology (AAAAI). Emphasizing the need for “education of stakeholders of all types,” Dr. Antos* said that change “may be difficult, but we hope with the support of pediatric organizations, the AAAAI, and school administrators, we can begin to break down the barriers preventing quality and timely communication with school nurses.”
The authors had no financial disclosures. The study was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through the Wisconsin Asthma Coalition (WAC).
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*In a previous version, Dr. Antos' name was misspelled.