Asthma medication ratio identifies high-risk pediatric patients



– An asthma medication ratio below 0.5 nearly doubles the risk of children ending up in the hospital with an acute asthma exacerbation, according to researchers from the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), Charleston.

Dr. Annie L. Andrews, associate professor of pediatrics at the Medical University of South Carolina M. Alexander Otto/MDedge News

Dr. Annie L. Andrews

The asthma medication ratio (AMR) – the number of prescriptions for controller medications divided by the number of prescriptions for both controller and rescue medications – has been around for a while, but it’s mostly been used as a quality metric. The new study shows that it’s also useful in the clinic to identify children who could benefit from extra attention.

A perfect ratio of 1 means that control is good without rescue inhalers. The ratio falls as the number of rescue inhalers goes up, signaling poorer control. Children with a ratio below 0.5 are considered high risk; they’d hit that mark if, for instance, they were prescribed one control medication such as fluticasone propionate (Flovent) and two albuterol rescue inhalers in a month.

If control is good, “you should only need a rescue inhaler very, very sporadically;” high-risk children probably need a higher dose of their controller, or help with compliance, explained lead investigator Annie L. Andrews, MD, associate professor of pediatrics at MUSC.

The university uses the EPIC records system, which incorporates prescription data from Surescripts, so the number of asthma medication fills is already available. The system just needs to be adjusted to calculate and report AMRs monthly, something Dr. Andrews and her team are working on. “The information is right there, but it’s an untapped resource,” she said. “We just need to crunch the numbers, and operationalize it. Why are we waiting until kids are in the hospital” to intervene?

Dr. Andrews presented a proof-of-concept study at the Pediatric Hospital Medicine meeting. Her team identified 214,452 asthma patients aged 2-17 years with at least one claim for an inhaled corticosteroid in the Truven MarketScan Medicaid database from 2013-14.

They calculated AMRs for each child every 3 months over a 15-month period. About 9% of children at any given time had AMRs below 0.5.

The first AMR was at or above 0.5 in 93,512 children; 18.1% had a subsequent asthma-related event, meaning an ED visit or hospitalization, during the course of the study. Among the 17,635 children with an initial AMR below 0.5, 25% had asthma-related events. The initial AMR couldn’t be calculated in 103,305 children, which likely meant they had less-active disease. Those children had the lowest proportion of asthma events, at 13.9%.

An AMR below 0.5 nearly doubled the risk of an asthma-related hospitalization or ED visit in the subsequent 3 months, with an odds ratios ranging from 1.7 to 1.9, compared with other children. The findings were statistically significant.

In short, serial AMRs helped predict exacerbations among Medicaid children. The team showed the same trend among commercially insured children in a recently published study. The only difference was that Medicaid children had a higher proportion of high-risk AMRs, and a higher number of asthma events (Am J Manag Care. 2018 Jun;24[6]:294-300). Together, the studies validate “the rolling 3-month AMR as an appropriate method for identifying children at high risk for imminent exacerbation,” the investigators concluded.

With automatic AMR reporting already in the works at MUSC, “we are now trying to figure out how to intervene. Do we just tell providers who their high-risk kids are and let them figure out how to contact families, or do we use this information to contact families directly? That’s kind of what I favor: ‘Hey, your kid just popped up as high risk, so let’s figure out what you need. Do you need a new prescription or a reminder to see your doctor?’ ” Dr. Andrews said.

Her team is developing a mobile app to communicate with families.

The mean age in the study was 7.9 years; 59% of the children were boys, and 41% were black.

The work was funded by the National Institutes of Health, among others. Dr. Andrews had no disclosures. The meeting was sponsored by the Society of Hospital Medicine, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Academic Pediatric Association.

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