One of the most at-risk groups during the COVID-19 pandemic are individuals with respiratory illnesses, including asthma. But thanks to Associate Pharmacy Professor Dr. Jennifer Elliott and her team, children with asthma can now breathe a little easier.
The University’s school- and community-based asthma clinic, which currently treats more than 80 children in the Pittsburgh region, has quickly gone virtual. It offers regular check-ups, education and help with accessing medication and needed resources, such as food and other health services.
“The Duquesne Asthma Clinic is continuing its work, and we are checking with all patients at least once a month to provide the support they need to maintain asthma control,” Elliott said. “We needed to quickly change some protocols to offer services through the telemedicine platform, but thanks to the support of others at the University, it has been a pretty smooth transition, and the feedback from families has been extremely positive.”
Elliott has developed partnerships with six school districts and designed a program that annually screens more than 8,000 students for asthma. The clinic then connects those who screen positive for the condition with the appropriate care.
To make the virtual transition, the clinic mailed to some families portable, hand-held devices that help determine proper dosages of medication. Elliott and her team then meet with families via Zoom.
“One of the benefits of using telemedicine is that we see the child and caregivers together,” Elliott said. “The family plays a central role in promoting effective asthma management, from helping the child avoid triggers to monitoring symptoms and making sure medications are taken as prescribed and with appropriate technique.”
Elliott said her team is grateful for an existing partnership with Global Links, a medical relief organization, which has ensured families have the necessary medical equipment during this time of increased demand.
The pandemic is just the latest challenge that Elliott’s team has weathered in order to continue to deliver care to those in greatest need.
Working primarily in underserved areas where access to care has been difficult, the team created seven school- and community-based asthma clinics to provide comprehensive asthma care during the school day. Working with physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, school nurses and pharmacies, the community-based model helps ensure access to medications and compliance with treatment regimens.
Elliott’s team also has launched a virtual smoking cessation program, partnering with several local organizations to ensure that participants have access to nicotine replacement therapy. Helping caregivers abstain from using cigarettes and other tobacco products is one of the most important ways parents can help their children, especially those who suffer from asthma. Smokers also are likely to be more vulnerable to COVID-19, so the virtual program marks another way Elliott and her team are responding to current health care needs.