Conference Coverage

Tips for helping children improve adherence to asthma treatment



– Up to 50% of children with asthma struggle to control their condition, yet fewer than 5% of pediatric asthma is severe and truly resistant to therapy, according to Susan Laubach, MD.

Dr. Susan Laubach Director, Allergy Clinic, Rady Children's Hospital, San Diego

Dr. Susan Laubach

Other factors may make asthma difficult to control and may be modifiable, especially nonadherence to recommended treatment. In fact, up to 70% of patients report poor adherence to recommended treatment, Dr. Laubach said at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“Barriers to adherence may be related to the treatments themselves,” she said. “These include complex treatment schedules, lack of an immediately discernible beneficial effect, adverse effects of the medication, and prohibitive costs.”

Dr. Laubach, who directs the allergy clinic at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, said that clinician-related barriers also influence patient adherence to recommended treatment, including difficulty scheduling appointments or seeing the same physician, a perceived lack of empathy, or failure to discuss the family’s concerns or answer questions. Common patient-related barriers include poor understanding of how the medication may help or how to use the inhalers.

“Some families have a lack of trust in the health care system, or certain beliefs about illness or medication that may hamper motivation to adhere,” she added. “Social issues such as poverty, lack of insurance, or a chaotic home environment may make it difficult for a patient to adhere to recommended treatment.”

In 2013, researchers led by Ted Klok, MD, PhD, of Princess Amalia Children’s Clinic in the Netherlands, explored practical ways to improve treatment adherence in children with pediatric respiratory disease (Breathe. 2013;9:268-77). One of their recommendations involves “five E’s” of ensuring optimal adherence. They include:

Ensure close and repeated follow-up to help build trust and partnership. “I’ll often follow up every month until I know a patient has gained good control of his or her asthma,” said Dr. Laubach, who was not involved in developing the recommendations. “Then I’ll follow up every 3 months.”

Explore the patient’s views, beliefs, and preferences. “You can do this by inviting questions or following up on comments or remarks made about the treatment plan,” she said. “This doesn’t have to take long. You can simply ask, ‘What are you concerned might happen if your child uses an inhaled corticosteroid?’ Or, ‘What have you heard about inhaled steroids?’ ”

Express empathy using active listening techniques tailored to the patient’s needs. Consider phrasing like, “I understand what you’re saying. In a perfect world, your child would not have to use any medications. But when he can’t sleep because he’s coughing so much, the benefit of this medication probably outweighs any potential risks.”

Exercise shared decision making. For example, if the parent of one of your patients has to leave for work very early in the morning, “maybe find a way to adjust to once-daily dosing so that appropriate doses can be given at bedtime when the parent is consistently available,” Dr. Laubach said.

Evaluate adherence in a nonjudgmental fashion. Evidence suggests that most patients with asthma miss a couple of medication doses now and then. She makes it a point to ask patients, “If you’re supposed to take 14 doses a week, how many do you think you actually take?” Their response “gives me an idea about their level of adherence and it opens a discussion into why they may miss doses, so that we can find a solution to help improve adherence.”

Mother and child with a pediatrician gpointstudio/Thinkstock

She encourages clinicians to have “an honest discussion” with parents about the potential benefits and risks of corticosteroid use in children with asthma. The Childhood Asthma Management Program (CAMP) study found a significant reduction in height velocity in patients treated with budesonide, compared with placebo (N Engl J Med. 2012;367[10]:904-12). “However, most of this reduction occurred in the first year of treatment, was not additive over time, and led in average to a 1-cm difference in height as an adult,” said Dr. Laubach, who is also of the department of pediatrics at the University of California, San Diego. “So while it must be acknowledged that high-dose inhaled corticosteroids may affect growth, who do we put on inhaled corticosteroids? People who can’t breathe.”

Studies have demonstrated that the regular use of inhaled corticosteroids is associated with a decreased risk of death from asthma (N Engl J Med. 2000;343:332-6). “I suspect that most parents would trade 1 cm of height to reduce the risk of death in their child,” Dr. Laubach said.

She reported having no financial disclosures.

Next Article: