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Research
Reducing Exposure to Asthma Triggers
Asthma Education for Missouri


Caregivers and educators throughout Missouri are drastically improving how they care for children with asthma, thanks to the tireless work of Benjamin Francisco, PhD, PNP, AC-E, a research assistant professor with the University of Missouri's School of Medicine and a nurse practitioner for University Physicians' Pediatric Pulmonary & Allergy Group. Considering more than 111,000 of Missouri's children suffer from asthma, that's no small feat.

Francisco has spent more than 14 years studying and proving the effectiveness of different types of education on the treatment of kids with asthma. His body of clinical research findings led to the creation of several groundbreaking programs including Asthma Ready™ Communities, a Missouri program aimed at improving asthma care through educating teachers, school nurses and other pediatric health care professionals.

Funded by the Missouri Foundation for Health, the Centers for Disease Control and additional federal grants, this one-of-a-kind program uses a unique combination of live instruction and web-based lessons to teach Missouri's professionals how to help asthma patients based on expert guidelines he also developed through research. So far, more than 900 professionals have been effectively educated through the Asthma Ready Communities TM  program.

"The idea has always been to build a team of people throughout the state to care for kids with asthma," said Francisco. "We know there are certain key messages that, if our whole state could learn, will drastically improve the lives of these kids. Children with asthma can lead very happy, normal lives. They can win gold medals. They can sing opera. They can do anything that requires them to use their lungs; it just takes a lot of learning. Educating as many Missourians as we can is a critical step toward helping these kids learn how to help themselves."

For Francisco, the key to unlocking the potential of his "asthma kids" is education, and his newest research project is no exception. He's currently embarking on a study in which he will look at whether he can achieve educational results with families by sending them home with DVDs, worksheets, scripts and interactive web-based content. He's already won half the battle. His study of the effectiveness of teaching kids about asthma using interactive media was published in the official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Grounded in his proven techniques, Francisco is now developing a more comprehensive, family education plan and testing the results.

"If it works the way we think it will," said Francisco, "it will enable us to get asthma education out to those families who really need it, where one of their family members is struggling with asthma. Ideally, the DVDs, worksheets and web lessons will give us an easy, accessible way to complete our educational goals."

Francisco has spent a good portion of his career looking at both what people need to know about asthma as well as how they learn those key messages most effectively. He breaks those messages into four unique categories:

  • Daily medicine can stop asthma.
  • Those medicines only work if they are taken correctly using a specific inhalation technique.
  • Airflow measurements are critical in knowing whether a child's asthma is under control.
  • Environmental factors, such as high allergen areas, are a critical component that will influence how well a child's asthma is controlled.

Francisco's new research will help him further explore different ways to present these four key messages and discover which ways are most effective. He's writing and developing his own, unique ways to teach, including inventing a series of cartoons geared toward teaching theses four principals to the kids themselves.

"Ideally, kids with asthma need to learn to be self-sufficient," said Francisco. "We want all of the adults around them, family, school educators, nurses and physicians, to have all the knowledge they need to help. But ultimately we want the kids to learn to manage their asthma. We know it's a lot for anyone to learn, that's why we need to develop these effective tools that do the job. The quality of these kids lives depends on it."

Francisco's work was recently honored when he won the 2010 Nursing Alumni Achievement Award given by the Sinclair School of Nursing at the University of Missouri-Columbia. He and his team received the 2008 Missouri Governor's Award for Innovation and he is a member of the Association of Asthma Educators.




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