5 Simple Questions Could Save Lives

Sydney researchers have developed a powerful new tool to help pharmacists and doctors nationwide protect people with asthma from life-threatening attacks.

A team from the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research have had their simple tool for assessing asthma control in adults incorporated into the National Asthma Council’s latest Australian Asthma Handbook.

The tool, called the Primary care Asthma Control Screening (PACS) tool, requires doctors and pharmacists to ask simple questions of their patients with asthma to ascertain whether the patient's condition is well-controlled.

"We've developed a five-item yes or no questionnaire which can easily and quickly assess whether a patient is managing their condition effectively," says project manager Kate LeMay, who assessed the tool with Woolcock colleagues Helen Reddel and Carol Armour.

"We're thrilled to see our work adopted for use on such a wide scale to help better protect Australians from the health risks of poorly-managed asthma."

A paper published in the latest Primary Care Respiratory Journal showed the questionnaire compared well with another widely used asthma control test when tested on 398 people with asthma in community pharmacies.

The PACS asks patients whether they've had symptoms of asthma such as wheezing or coughing, and if their asthma has woken them up at night.

"These very specific questions give just the right clues as to a person's risk profile, and will ensure that people most at risk get a more detailed assessment of their asthma control status," Ms LeMay says.

Two million Australians have asthma, a chronic lung condition that inflames and narrows the airways, causing wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness and coughing.

The latest Australian asthma guidelines were launched by the Minister for Health Peter Dutton in Canberra on March 4.

Dr Reddel says the new Australian Asthma Handbook is the first update for Australia since 2006, and is radically different from the textbook style of its predecessor.

"These guidelines are web-based, practical and designed specifically for use by GPs and other primary care providers," she says.

The research is published online here: http://www.thepcrj.org/journ/view_article.php?article_id=1110

 QUESTION TIME: Five Questions Pharmacists or Doctors Will Ask

 Ask your patient if he/she has experienced any of the following more than once a week in the last month.

  • Symptoms of asthma, cough, wheeze, shortness of breath
  • Waking at night because of asthma
  • Chest tightness on waking
  • Difficulty in performing vigorous activity like running, lifting heavy objects, exercise
  • Difficulty in performing moderate activities like vacuuming, climbing flights of stairs