March 2, 2009 -- The children of Rochester, Minn., are struggling with a large-scale health problem.
"Twenty-five percent of children say they have been told by their physician they have asthma," said Mary Wellik, of Olmsted County Public Health. "We're looking to see what we can do as a community to reduce the burden of asthma on these children and their families."
So the city is undergoing a radical experiment along with the help of the Mayo Clinic, public school nurses, parents and the county health department, to create a new model to care for asthmatic children.
The program is making sure the health department and schools are looped in to recognize the early signs for an asthma attack so that they know when to adjust medications and keep tabs on how well treatments are working.
It's a departure from the past, when only a parent knew about a child's condition.
Sue Bidinger, whose 6-year-old son Nathan has asthma, said that for her the venture is a welcome change.
Nathan spends about a third of his day in school, so it became critical to add the school nurse to the Mayo Clinic primary care team. Now the child's doctor, the family and the school can be on the same page.
"I review things with the student, make sure they are carrying inhaler and using it properly," said Lisa Raymond, the nurse at Washington Elementary School, which Nathan attends.
The action plan starts with Mayo Clinic pediatrician Dr. Kate Yapuncich, Nathan's doctor. She creates the medical plan for treating his asthma and makes sure he clearly understands his asthma action plan.
And it's working. Nathan's first asthma attack has been his only asthma attack. In fact, he's so healthy, he hasn't missed a single day of school, thanks to the new model of primary care in which collaboration is the new prescription.
"It's really communication between all of us that makes this thing work," Bidinger said.
Though the pilot program is still in process and hasn't produced any conclusive statistics, doctors said they've received tremendous feedback from parents and providers.
Asthma-Focused Program Called a Model for Health-Care Reform
"Good Morning America" medical editor Dr. Tim Johnson said the asthma-focused program illustrates the key elements of health-care reform.
First, you need primary care -- somewhere you can go and get good care when you feel sick, instead of just going to the emergency room, Johnson said.
The second element is information technology, which allows coordination between the various elements of a person's care, he said.
Johnson added that everyone needs to know specifically what to do with a particular patient, what to do when certain symptoms arise and what medications the patient is on.