Health Technology in Schools: ACHRI Receives $2.2 Million from NIH to Explore How Telemedicine Can Help Kids Control Asthma

LITTLE ROCK, AR. (June 2, 2010) – The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded investigators at the Arkansas Children’s Hospital Research Institute (ACHRI) a 5-year, $2.2 million grant to explore whether school-based telemedicine sessions with doctors can help students in rural areas control their asthma. As the most common chronic childhood disease, asthma disproportionally affects minority and low-income children and can be especially burdensome for those who live far away from asthma specialists.

The Reducing Asthma Disparities in Arkansas (RADAR) research team, led by ACHRI investigator Tamara Perry, MD, will examine 12 school districts in rural east Arkansas counties, placing video-conferencing systems in six so that recruited students with asthma can have regular education appointments with specialists in Little Rock. The remaining schools will act as control sites. Researchers believe that the students who participate in the school-based asthma education and monitoring will gain better control over their disease, with fewer episodes of acute breathing problems.

“Children with asthma often live with frequent symptoms, so it becomes the norm for them,” said Perry, the study’s lead investigator and an assistant professor of Pediatrics at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) College of Medicine. “They don’t understand that they shouldn’t constantly struggle to breathe. We’ll teach them that their asthma can and should be under control.”

The RADAR study will include three years of school-based intervention, with each site hosting the video-conferencing sessions for a year. The project will begin in the schools in the fall of 2011.

Students ages 7 to 14 will learn how to recognize initial symptoms of an asthma attack, why it’s important to take their medications as prescribed and ways to reduce their risk of complications. They’ll sit for the video-conferencing education during non-instruction periods such as study hall or recess. During the sessions, they’ll be able to speak directly with ACHRI asthma specialists so they can have questions answered and so the physicians can track their progress.

Parents also will be heavily involved in the project, attending courses to learn similar concepts, as well as effective methods for discussing their children’s asthma with doctors. Schools that participate will receive state-of-the-art video-conferencing technology for the year they are involved, and the RADAR team will provide training for the districts’ IT professionals and school nurses, as well.

Investigators will work cooperatively with the students’ primary care providers, with ACHRI asthma specialists giving them updates on the level of patients’ asthma control and disease management recommendations based on published national asthma guidelines.

Dr. Perry and her team hope that the study will reduce the disparities faced by rural children at high risk for asthma. If it is successful, the RADAR project could become a model for future chronic care telemedicine initiatives in remote communities across the nation.

“We know that being far away from sub-specialty services can be detrimental for children with chronic health problems,” Perry said. “It’s up to us to find innovative ways to provide the care they desperately need.”

Preliminary studies to support the project were funded in part by the Arkansas Biosciences Institute and the UAMS Arkansas Center for Health Disparities. The UAMS Center for Distance Health also provides support through training, technological resources and telemedicine session coordination.

Arkansas Children’s Hospital is the only pediatric medical center in Arkansas and one of the largest in the United States serving children from birth to age 21. The campus spans 28 city blocks and houses 316 beds, a staff of approximately 500 physicians, 80 residents in pediatrics and pediatric specialties and more than 4,000 employees. The private, nonprofit healthcare facility boasts an internationally renowned reputation for medical breakthroughs and intensive treatments, unique surgical procedures and forward-thinking medical research - all dedicated to fulfilling our mission of enhancing, sustaining and restoring children's health and development. ACH recently ranked No. 85 on FORTUNE 100 Best Companies to Work For®. For more information, visit www.archildrens.org .

  ACHRI provides a research environment on the ACH campus to meet the needs of the UAMS faculty.  Research scientists at ACHRI conduct clinical, basic science, and health services research for the purpose of treating illnesses, preventing disease and improving the health of children everywhere.

UAMS is the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, with colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Related Professions and Public Health; a graduate school; a 540,000-square-foot hospital; six institutes; and a statewide network of regional centers. UAMS has 2,775 students and 748 medical residents. Its institutes are the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, the Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, the Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy, the Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, the Psychiatric Research Institute and the Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging. It is the state’s largest public employer with more than 10,000 employees, including nearly 1,150 physicians who provide medical care to patients at UAMS, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the VA Medical Center and UAMS’ Area Health Education Centers throughout the state. Visit www.uams.edu or www.uamshealth.com .

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