Getting Asthmatics to Use Peak Flow Meters

Vol. 18 •Issue 6 • Page 15
Getting Asthmatics to Use Peak Flow Meters

No Easy Task

Kevin had been feeling “funny” all day. His chest was tight; but he did not think it was anything serious, so he ignored it. He spent the day at the community center where he works as a childcare counselor, and the day was nice enough that they took the kids out to the park.

That trip proved to be a costly move for Kevin, who had ignored his asthma’s early warning signs when he awoke that particular morning.

As the day progressed, Kevin experienced increasing difficulty with his breathing. Finally, after a full day at work, a trip to the park and no relief from using his inhaler, Kevin went to the emergency room.

Four albuterol and atrovent treatments later and an increase in peak flows post-treatments, Kevin insisted he was well enough to go home.

Before he was allowed to leave, the ER doctor asked a respiratory therapist to give Kevin a peak flow meter and teach him how to use it. As the practitioner explained to Kevin how to use the device, Kevin told him he had one at home but he never uses it.

Unused Tools Abound

Like many asthmatics, Kevin has all the tools to properly manage his disease, but he does not understand the importance of using all resources to keep him out of the emergency room.

It is a problem that is being carefully researched as caregivers try to find ways to empower people with breathing problems to take charge of managing their disease.

“It’s difficult to get people to use their peak flow meters,” said Lynn B. Gerald, PhD, MSPH, associate professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “Part of the problem is that they don’t understand how to use them. That is why ongoing education is so important.”

As the lead researcher in a study examining the most effective way to assist children in taking asthma medications correctly, Gerald and the staff at UAB will oversee children’s adherence in taking asthma medication at selected elementary schools in the Birmingham area.

The study recruits asthmatic children ages 6 to 12 who take daily medications. Half will take their medications under the supervision of the researchers and half will continue to take their medicines as they are currently doing.

Researchers will look at self-reported asthma symptoms, school absences and lung function as measured by a peak flow meter to determine whether the supervised children fare better than other children.

“Most patients don’t remember or understand the importance of using their peak flow meter,” said Gerald.

Setting Daily Routines

To rectify this problem, Gerald is working on getting the children in her study into a routine.

“Make it a habit to teach kids to use their peak flow at the same time every day so they remember better.”

As any clinician knows, getting people, even adults, to take their medication on time and to use a tool like a peak flow meter to monitor their condition is easier said than done.

“There is not a magic bullet for getting people to remember to use their peak flow meters,” said Maria Elena Alioto, an asthma researcher and educator at the University of California-San Francisco. The key is making patients believe it is vital to their life. “It is not up to the system to take care of them,” she stressed. “Asthma management is a 50-50 thing.”

Asthma researchers suggest that all caregivers who come in contact with an asthmatic should do their part to remind and educate the patient on peak flow meter use.

“Communication is critical,” said Alioto. “Asthma education is the only place where everything is brought together—explaining to patients what, where and why things are so important.”

Teaching patients the importance of the peak flow meter is the first step. Having a treatment plan to follow once they have the results is another matter. However, it takes both to lead to a compliant patient.

Marc Willis is a South Carolina television reporter.