FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, March 21, 2003
CONEY ISLAND HOSPITAL TO STUDY EFFECTIVENESS OF ‘ASTHMA BUDDIES’ IN HELPING INNER CITY CHILDREN
For a child with severe asthma, life often becomes a physical and emotional minefield in the battle to breathe easier.
Asthma, the most common chronic disease in America, is the number #1 reason children visit their pediatrician, are rushed to hospital emergency rooms, and miss school. Asthmatic children, in fact, miss an estimated 10 million school days a year, accounting for more than 20 percent of all absences.
This is a disease with a strong socio-economic predisposition to it. The rate of pediatric asthma in poor areas of New York City is often two to three times higher than the national average. Health care providers view the presence of triggers like dust mites and cockroaches, as well as a lack of compliance and education, as reasons for the higher asthma rates among the children of the urban poor.
With this in mind, Coney Island Hospital has combined forces with the American Medical Alert Company, a marketer of at-home appliances and monitoring services, to put interactive “health buddies” in the homes of 100 poor, inner city children that live in southern Brooklyn. The portable desktop computer, which plugs into the telephone line and an electrical outlet, daily asks children a series of 10 questions on their health. The information is then sent on a secured website to medical professionals at the hospital who follow up with the children and their families when necessary.
“The idea behind ‘health buddies’ is to identify, track and analyze pediatric patients’ vital signs, symptoms and behavior, improve patient education and compliance, and facilitate a daily exchange between patient and health care provider,” said Warren Seigel, M.D., chairman, Department of Pediatrics at Coney Island Hospital. “We’re hoping that this can make a difference in terms of reducing emergency room visits and school absences.”
The ongoing randomized 90-day controlled trial of 200 patients ages 8 to 16, which began this month, will determine whether the device works as an effective self-monitor. Coney Island Hospital selected the children - who come from needy, mostly immigrant families - based on their frequent visits to the hospital’s E.R. and their ability to benefit from the asthma buddies. Half of the children in the study received the computers and the other half were asked to keep written diaries developed by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) with the same education program.
Those with the “health buddies” respond each day to questions from the talking computer regarding how they feel, their asthma symptoms, limitations in their activity, the results of their “peak flow” meter (which signals whether an attack is approaching so that medication can be adjusted), etc. The computer also includes asthma facts and trivia questions to promote the educational component of the interactive system.
“We’re very hopeful that these interactive devices will be shown to improve the health and quality of life of these children,” said Dr. Seigel. “If this is the case, we’re confident that through grants or corporate support we will find a way to make the computers permanent fixtures in the homes of these and other needy children.”