Tufts Medical Center (Tufts MC) is a not-for-profit academic medical center that provides health care to patients both locally in the City of Boston, Massachusetts, and regionally in surrounding communities. For the past eight years, Tufts MC's Department of Community Health Improvement Programs (CHIP) has operated the Asthma Prevention and Management Initiative (APMI) to serve a primarily immigrant, non- or limited-English speaking and densely populated Chinatown community. APMI is the only local asthma management program that focuses on and prioritizes Asian speaking families and features program components in the hospital, schools and community.
Tufts Medical Center established the APMI in 2006, in partnership with Chinatown school principals. Asthma prevalence had increased from 15 to 20 percent at the local elementary school that year (compared to a 10 percent prevalence in Boston as a whole) and Tufts MC's bilingual pediatric providers saw a spike in asthma-related urgent care visits. In response, the CHIP team set out to inform the community in places where people live, work, and gather - at day cares, elementary and secondary schools and community agencies - and educate patients and families during home visits to children with poorly controlled asthma.
In 2006, CHIP secured a Health Disparities Grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation and used the funding to initiate and sustain APMI for three years. Additional grant support from a local community development fund, The Chinatown Trust Fund, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development through the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC), facilitated APMI's expansion to include home visits and to serve more families over time. In partnership with local elementary and secondary school principals, school nurses, Tufts MC administrators and physician champions, the CHIP director established APMI and hired its first program manager in 2006 and a bilingual Community Health Worker (CHW) in 2011. Based on a detailed assessment, conducted with input from parents with limited English skills, teachers and clinical providers, APMI developed targeted solutions for Chinatown's asthma improvement needs.
APMI developed multilingual, multimedia asthma education and self-empowerment materials that are distributed in the clinic, at schools, during home visits and in the community. In partnership with the local schools, APMI created asthma education classes and an asthma education program for local day care and community center staff, and began the development of an asthma registry connected to Tufts MC's electronic medical record system. In addition, APMI convened care providers from across the pediatric continuum - emergency, inpatient and outpatient departments, as well as local schools - to develop standardized messaging, materials and procedures to ensure children with asthma and their families hear consistent asthma care messages everywhere they receive care.
APMI also promotes prevention of asthma and improved asthma management across local neighborhoods by providing all students diagnosed with asthma, whose parents consent to their involvement, with education programs at local elementary and middle schools. APMI promotes community awareness and management of asthma, particularly how to recognize environmental triggers, by educating local parents and day care, preschool and elementary school staff in Chinatown.
Children with poorly controlled asthma who are referred to the Asthma Prevention and Management Initiative by their primary care physicians or identified by APMI staff from data in the asthma registry, receive asthma action plans and tailored and culturally and linguistically competent environmental home visits and supplies, provided by the Boston Public Health Commission. APMI currently serves more than 100 families per year through the home visit program, which includes environmental assessments, medication review, review of asthma action plans and disease education for children and their families.
APMI's home visit program is part of the broader Boston Asthma Home Visit Collaborative (BAHVC). APMI draws on and contributes to the city-wide standardized approach to in-home asthma care. Where appropriate, APMI's Community Health Worker and other home visitors make referrals to Boston's Breathe Easy at Home program - an extension of the BAHVC - for housing inspection and advocacy on behalf of tenants, and refer patients to other services to reduce environmental and social stressors, as appropriate.
To complete the circle of care and ensure communication, home visitors fill out a Home Visit Progress Note and submit it to referring clinicians after each home visit. The note also is incorporated in Tufts Medical Center's ambulatory electronic medical record and listed as a patient encounter, thus enabling clinicians to review home visit findings and reinforce CHW and home visitor interventions with patients during clinical visits. As part of the BAHVC program, APMI home visitors also share de-identified home visit information with the BPHC.
APMI tracks its progress and impact in the schools, clinic and community. After four years of delivering asthma education in schools, absences for students with asthma decreased by one day, while absences for the general elementary student population decreased by only 0.2 days. Efforts to improve clinician adherence to National Institutes of Health EPR-3 Guidelines for Asthma Care also showed impressive results. Chart review data indicate that 35 percent more children, with two or more asthma-related urgent care visits within an eight-week period, now receive appropriate controller medication prescriptions than before the clinical quality improvement effort began. For children with poorly controlled asthma, APMI can demonstrate statistically significant improvements in the home environment (i.e. reduction in the presence of triggers) and asthma outcomes (i.e. improved ACT scores, decreased hospital admissions and increased use of asthma action plans) from the first to the follow-up visit, which occurs six months later.
A partnership with BPHC's Asthma program since its inception has aided APMI's sustainability. With BPHC's encouragement and the Department of Housing and Urban Development award, APMI was able to initiate its home visiting program, which Tufts MC continues to fund. APMI also is active in advocacy efforts in Massachusetts, supporting reimbursement for asthma education and home visits by third-party payers. APMI has strong data to support this case; Outcomes data from 2009-2013 show that receiving home visits decreased urgent care visits by 21 percent and inpatient admissions by six percent, saving the health care system nearly $50,000 in avoided costs.