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6 May 2019

By Julianne Badenoch, Board Director, National Asthma Council Australia

Few people see asthma as a deadly disease. But, as a nurse working in rural practice in the South Australian wheatbelt – where allergies are rife as a trigger for asthma flare-ups – I know differently.

When asthma spirals out of control, it’s often because it’s not being managed correctly. A patient may not take be managing their asthma effectively or using their medications appropriately. It won’t matter until there’s a flare-up – whether it’s flu season, hazard reduction burns, springtime allergies or a dust storm.

The problem is that asthma isn’t always afforded the high profile of other chronic diseases such as diabetes or heart disease – even among those with asthma. It stays under the radar until someone comes into my practice during an episode – and then raises its ugly head.

Yet its impact is huge. There are 2.7 million Australians with asthma and 441 people died from the condition in 2017.

This is why World Asthma Day is so important. The annual event, held on the first Tuesday in May, aims to improve asthma awareness and care around the world. My Health Record will help those with asthma take greater control of the management of their condition. For clinicians, it provides greater insights to facilitate better treatment – regardless of whether symptoms are present.

Changing the view of asthma

I sit on the board of the National Asthma Council Australia and know firsthand that our ability to treat and care for asthma patients has greatly improved over the past few decades. But we’ve gone backwards in public understanding of asthma as a disease. This is impacting treatment – both in terms of adherence and outcomes.

People generally see their asthma as a short-term condition and play down its importance with comments like: “I’ve got a touch of asthma.” They don’t see it as a long-term condition that must be managed, even when they’re feeling well.

When it comes to managing asthma and reducing the severity of flare ups, having information on hand is crucial. Yet only one in five adults with asthma has a written asthma plan for managing their condition.

As patients move through the healthcare system, they can keep records of their respiratory health and share this with their clinical care providers. Their My Health Record is a repository for:

  • Accurate shared health summaries that ensure vital information is available in a timely fashion to treating clinicians
  • Prescribing and dispensing histories, which will improve adherence to asthma medications
  • Ongoing spirometry test results which can be stored for future reference

Improving visibility

For healthcare providers assisting with asthma management, the benefits of My Health Record are obvious – it provides access to more information.

When patients attend general practice, they rarely turn up with puffers in hand, even if they’re coming in for a diagnosis spirometry. Understanding what medications have been dispensed and seeing a shared health summary is incredibly helpful in managing effective care.

This is particularly the case when it comes to travel. In the recent school holidays, we treated several children who were on family holidays in our area. Having the ability to look at their health information through My Health Record is critically important, especially when it comes to knowing what asthma treatment they may require or filling existing medication scripts.

The safety benefits are significant – medication, allergy and immunisation histories are all important in consultations where there isn’t a previous clinical relationship. This is without even mentioning the potential this information holds in emergency situations. My Health Record will be an essential tool in my practice, especially for patients with asthma.