During its 20-year history, the King County Asthma Program (KCAP) at Public Health—Seattle & King County has pioneered research and programs in asthma management. Under the guidance of Dr. Jim Krieger, KCAP developed its core programming: home visits with community health workers (CHWs) to reduce asthma triggers in homes and improve asthma outcomes. For 20 years, KCAP’s projects and research have helped build the solid evidence base for this model, which now informs asthma services offered across the nation. To build this program, KCAP program staff have worked with care providers in public health settings, hospital systems, community clinics, health plans, schools, housing agencies and community organizations. Since its original demonstration project began in 1997, KCAP has engaged more than 4,000 patients in programs to manage environmental asthma triggers and improve care delivery for better health outcomes.
Building on a deep history of providing asthma services to those most in need, KCAP’s current Guidelines to Practice (G2P) project focuses on coordinating care and services for low-income clients with poorly controlled or uncontrolled asthma, specifically for King County’s African American, Hispanic and Somali communities. These communities are disproportionately affected by asthma and more likely to live in housing that exposes them to asthma triggers. Funded through a grant from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), G2P is KCAP’s most robust program to date. The program coordinates care between the patient, the patient’s health care provider and the patient’s health plan. Experienced CHWs work with patients in their homes to reduce asthma triggers; they also provide case management, support, supplies and resources to help patients self-manage their asthma. Working with several clinics and health plans, KCAP has developed an enhanced electronic health record template that streamlines communication between CHWs, care providers and health plan managers, making it easier for patients to access care. The three care teams are now able to work from a shared asthma care plan.
KCAP’s four CHWs have extensive experience working with individuals to improve health outcomes. Some have backgrounds in social work, medical assistance and medical interpretation, but their strongest experience is their deep familiarity with the communities they serve. CHWs have social and cultural connections and shared life experiences with their clients, which helps ensure that KCAP’s care delivery is culturally relevant. The program currently enrolls clients, both adults and children, to receive up to three home visits from a CHW. Each home visit consists of a home environment assessment, assistance with the identification and management of asthma triggers, and a discussion about medication concerns and adherence. The CHW sets self-management goals and provides practical tools to reach those goals, including a free High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) vacuum; HEPA air filters for high-risk patients; allergen-control bed covers; food storage containers; green cleaning kits; and an asthma spacer, peak flow meter and medicine boxes.
Many clients face pressing stressors that overshadow asthma as a concern, such as poor housing conditions, housing instability and mental health issues. Although CHWs emphasize asthma management, they can coordinate additional services so that these patients can begin to focus on their asthma. CHWs can connect patients with KCAP’s partners and local agencies offering other clinical and social services. The CHWs’ ability to provide culturally competent, empathetic approaches to the many social and environmental causes of asthma have been a cornerstone of KCAP’s success in asthma care for the past 20 years. KCAP’s programming is expanding to include additional partners that can more directly offer clients asthma-related services. These programs include housing weatherization and repairs specific to respiratory disease, tenant advocacy and legal resources, child care consultation, and training for pharmacists on medication adjustment.
In addition to working with clients in their homes, KCAP’s current program works with care providers and health plans to change systems and improve delivery of services in the community. KCAP is working with 13 clinics and two health plans to improve clinical care guidelines; equip clinics with spirometry and allergy testing; and optimize electronic health records to improve communication and care coordination between care providers, patients, CHWs and health plans. It also is working with two health plans to improve their Medicaid Managed Care Plans, adding such components as enhanced case management, medication monitoring, and provider notification of emergency room visits or hospital discharge.
KCAP’s extensive body of work in environmental asthma management and care coordination is evident in the successful patient outcomes throughout the program’s history. KCAP’s pioneering efforts with the CHW model and care coordination have contributed to decreases in asthma-related hospitalizations and urgent care use, increases in patient and caregiver quality of life, and a greater overall return on investment when compared to standard care. KCAP continues to build the evidence base for the CHW model and patient-centered asthma care, and it serves as an exemplar for asthma care delivery across Washington state and nationwide.