A school-based asthma education program was launched in DeKalb County in September by the College of Community Health Sciences. The program is being conducted via telemedicine by Dr. Karen Burgess, associate professor and chair of the Department of Pediatrics, and Beth Smith, a nurse practitioner in the Faculty-Staff Clinic at University Medical Center. The two presented on the successes and challenges of the program at the College’s February Academic Conference.
Once a week, for four weeks, a group of students at the Ruhama Junior High School in Fort Payne, along with their parents and school staff and administrators, learn about asthma symptoms, medications and treatments. After a group has completed four sessions, another group participates.
The school was chosen because of its high rate of documented asthma cases, and Burgess and Smith referred to the National Asthma Prevention Program and the Alabama Department of Public Health’s asthma coalition when forming the curriculum.
The first two groups consisted of seven or eight students, parents, and a few staff or administrators from the school. The third group was made up of teachers and school staff. Altogether, 44 learners have been reached by the program.
“It was our goal to reach some parents of children and school staff, so we could kill two birds with one stone,” Burgess said.
The asthma education program is being funded with a $25,000 gift from BlueCross Blue Shield of Alabama.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 137,091 children in Alabama had asthma in 2007, a prevalence rate of 12.3 percent, which compares to the US rate of 9 percent.
So far, about one-third of the gift has been used, and 15 asthma spacers (add-on devices for inhalers that allow for easier and more effective administration of medication) were provided for students. Burgess said parents have also reported improved symptoms of their children.
Burgess said she and Smith found the informal classroom setting (versus a medical examination room setting) to be helpful in engaging the students, even with the occasional “awkwardness” that comes with communicating with video conferencing equipment.
“We provide asthma education every day in the clinic, and we never have had kids ask questions the way they do in the classroom,” she says.
CCHS has provided specialty health care via telemedicine across the state for a number of years, including: telepsychiatry services to the DeKalb County Youth Services; telepsychiatry services to West Alabama Mental Health Care Center, with sites in Marengo, Choctaw, Greene, Hale and Sumter counties; and diabetes education via telemedicine to a number of rural Alabama communities in Sumter, Pickens and Clarke counties.