Neckole Herring has her hands full not only as a mother to four children but as a mother to four children with asthma.
“Asthma can mean missed school days for the kids and missed work days for me,” she said. “I have learned asthma is a serious condition that can land your child in the hospital if you are not careful. It’s a disease you can’t play around with or take it lightly.”
Herring feels her children – Govanna, 16, Martell, 12, Marquis, 10, and Martwion, 8 – have their asthma mostly under control thanks to Dr. P. Cooper White, their pediatrician at Akron Children’s Hospital’s Locust Pediatric Care Group.
The children are on different medicines as their asthma is of varying degrees of severity. They have asthma plans on file with their school nurses at Akron Public Schools’ Portage Path Elementary, Litchfield Middle and Firestone High Schools just in case of a medical emergency.
“I pay much more attention to the weather, to pollen counts – we also have allergies – and I always make sure we get our annual flu shots,” said Neckole. “The kids know not to skip their medications when they are feeling okay. They need to take preventative medicine every day because asthma can sneak up on you.”
The improvement Neckole has seen in her kids corresponds with an enterprise effort undertaken by Akron Children’s Hospital to make asthma a high-priority healthcare need.
In 2014, the hospital created a system-wide registry of asthma patients and began tracking outcomes. Meanwhile, Easy Breathing, an evidence-based asthma management program, rolled out in Akron Children’s 27 primary care offices throughout Northeast Ohio.
As a result, Akron Children’s has seen a 15% decrease in the number of asthma patients making ER visits and a 30% decrease in asthma-related hospitalizations. On an annual basis, these results will save more than $3 million in health care expenditures.
“This means a lot more kids will be able to stay in school and continue to learn, sleep through the night, and run and play like their friends without asthma,” said Dr. White, medical staff president at Akron Children’s. “Our focus on this area as a hospital has paid off and we are now seeing the results. But we still have more work to do in reaching our goals.”
“The Easy Breathing program includes training and tools that can aid providers in diagnosing asthma, determining its severity, assessing how well it’s controlled, prescribing appropriate therapies and developing a written asthma treatment plan,” said David Karas, MD, a pediatrician at the Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics office in Wadsworth who has been leading the implementation of the program at Akron Children’s.
Easy Breathing is designed to improve identification of previously unidentified cases of asthma. So, as part of the program, all patients of Akron Children’s pediatric primary care practices receive an asthma screening survey, not just those previously identified as having asthma.
“Since 2013, we have been able to identify 1,500 undiagnosed cases of asthma,” said Dr. Karas. “Of these undiagnosed cases, 36% have persistent asthma and nearly all of them have been prescribed a daily anti-inflammatory medication.”
The program spells out the appropriate intervals for follow-up based on asthma severity, as well as when a referral to a specialist is needed.
“The Easy Breathing program really brings all the pieces together,” said Dr. White. “It’s a great example of 21st century medicine. It has elements of quality improvement, population health, and effective use of guidelines – and it helps children lead healthier lives.”
About 1 in 10 American children suffer from asthma, making it the leading chronic disease in childhood and the chief cause of missed school days. But with treatment, coordination of care and education, most children with asthma can keep their symptoms under control and avoid unplanned hospital visits.
As Neckole Herring can attest, asthma can be managed if you work closely with your health care providers and make sure your children are following their treatment plans.
Asthma is not keeping her kids from school or any of the other things they love to do.
“They each play two sports – Govanna, softball and volleyball, and the boys all play football and basketball,” she said. “We love our doctors but it’s definitely nice not having to spend as much time in the ER or the hospital.”