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Leveraging Data and Dispelling Myths to Improve Asthma Outcomes

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From genetic factors to exposure to harsh chemicals or tobacco smoke, there’s no single root cause for the development of asthma, which impacts about 25 million Americans

And so, to enhance the care of asthma, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) conducts research and provides educational materials to raise awareness of these factors contributing to asthma and to dispel commonly held myths about this disease. 

Through its research, AAFA also seeks to more deeply understand the factors contributing to the development of asthma and who is most at risk. Recently, AAFA released its Asthma Capitals™ Report, which ranks the largest 100 U.S. metropolitan cities by how challenging they are to live in with asthma; an effort to help people who live in those cities understand their risk and advocate for better care and policies.

As part of Asthma Awareness Month, Komodo Health Chief Marketing Officer Bill Evans interviewed Kenneth Mendez, President and CEO of AAFA for our series, For the Health of It, to discuss the foundation's work and the disparities in asthma and allergy care.

Check out part two of the conversation between Bill and Kenneth. A transcript of their discussion follows: 

Bill Evans: We know from our research that social determinants play a big role in the management of asthma. What are some ways we can improve disease management to ensure underserved populations get the best care possible? 

Kenneth Mendez: One approach is to provide community-based programs that encourage people to take preventative steps. 

For instance, it’s important that people with asthma understand the triggers for their asthma. Unfortunately, for racially and ethnically underserved populations, housing can be one of these challenges. So one important way to improve disease management is to get into people's homes and to look at the standards of the housing provided, even before people need to take medications. 

Bill: What role do data and technology play for disease management that can ultimately enhance outcomes for patients?

Kenneth: There’s a lot of new technology available to improve disease management, including wearable technology. Overall, technology promises to help lower costs, provide greater access to medications, and reduce the time for clinical trials. 

The availability of data promises to play an essential role in improving the treatment of asthma. Our recent research has underscored the importance of understanding how asthma impacts different communities and who could benefit from different treatment options or approaches. 

To this end, centralized data collection on a national scale is essential. With a centralized data source, activities like conducting clinical trials or formulating payment policies can be enhanced. 

Bill: Shelter-in-place orders have been critical to flattening the COVID curve. But they have also kept many patients away from routine care appointments. What are you telling members of the asthma community to do to ensure the best management of their disease during the pandemic? 

Kenneth: There’s been a lot to assess and take in over the past 12 months. But the most important thing for asthma patients to remember is that they need to continue to take their medications. Early on during the pandemic, many people were reluctant to go out and get their medications, but if you've been prescribed medication, you need to keep taking it.

Another misconception that emerged during the pandemic was that people with asthma can’t wear masks. That’s simply not true. If you have well-controlled asthma, you should be able to wear a mask. If you are having trouble breathing through a mask during COVID-19, you need to see your specialist – because your asthma is not well controlled.

Bill: On that note, the theme of this year’s Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month is about dispelling myths. What are some other myths, and what can people do to help educate others about asthma and allergies?

Kenneth: First off, some people think asthma is a childhood disease and that you outgrow it. That’s not the case. I had asthma as a kid. I didn’t have it through my 20s, but now I have it again. Asthma can always re-emerge, even in adults. 

Some people think asthma is infectious. It is not. 

There’s also a myth that you can’t exercise if you have asthma. That’s not the case: you can exercise if you have asthma, if it’s well controlled.

Bill: In concert with Asthma and Allergies Awareness Month, you’ve recently published your Asthma Capitals Report. Can you tell us a little bit about the findings?

Kenneth: We looked at the 100 largest cities and identified the ones that are most challenging to live in if you have asthma. We look at three indicators for those rankings: one is asthma prevalence; the second is mortality; and the third is emergency room visits. 

If you score high on all those indicators, you will score high on our survey.

In the rankings this year, the top five are:
  1. Allentown, Pennsylvania
  2. Baltimore, Maryland

  3. Richmond, Virginia

  4. Milwaukee, Wisconsin 

  5. New Haven, Connecticut 

Our report analyzed eight risk factors that can influence asthma outcomes, including poverty, lack of insurance, air pollution, pollen count, long-term controller medicine use, quick-relief medicine use, smoke-free laws, and access to asthma specialists. 

Knowing which cities score high helps us identify where to put resources and to identify approaches to address asthma in those locations.

Health disparities represent an enormous cost to the healthcare system. Including costs associated with asthma, health disparities cost the healthcare system about $135 billion each year. By addressing these issues, we can therefore bring overall costs down. But doing so isn’t just about costs – it is also the right thing to do. 

Bill: Thanks, Kenny. It’s been great to have you join us on For the Health of It. I want to thank you so much for sharing your insights today. To learn more about asthma and allergies and what AAFA is doing to support the community, please visit aafa.org. And to learn more about Komodo and how we are working to reduce the burden of disease, please check out komodohealth.com, and be sure to follow us on social media, including LinkedIn and Twitter for news and updates about future episodes. See you next time.
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