Peer Asthma E-learning Programme supports teenagers with asthma

07 Jan 2014
Kinsale Students who took part in the Pilot E-Learning Programme, Martine du Toit, Dyson Marketing Manager, Sharon Cosgrove, CEO of the Asthma Society and Mary Hughes, Research & Education Officer with the Asthma Society of Ireland

Asthma E-learning Programme supports teenagers, helping them to achieve better symptom control with a view to reducing unscheduled GP visits and hospital admissions

  • Asthma is the most common chronic disease for children in Ireland, affecting 20% of Irish children
  • More than 3,000 admissions per year to hospitals for asthma treatment, with over half under 14 years in age
  • Inadequate management of asthma symptoms is the cause of unnecessary morbidity for children and young people and places an unnecessary burden on the health service
  • Estimated cost for to the Irish health system for the treatment of asthma in children younger than 15 is €56 million annually
  • Average cost for a hospital admission for asthma is €3,508 per visit
  • Irish children lose on average 10 days of school per annum due to their asthma  

Commissioned by the Asthma Society of Ireland and supported by Dyson, a new programme has been successfully piloted that will potentially affect the lives of young people with asthma. The project emanated from a PhD conducted in University College Cork on asthma in young people that highlighted the need for a teen-focused approach to supporting young people who have asthma in their everyday lives.

Young people reported that they are less likely to manage their asthma well in the out-of-home environment because their friends don’t understand the condition and it’s management. This results in teenagers hiding their symptoms or taking risks when they feel unwell in order to avoid unwanted attention.

They also reported that they do not trust on-line health information as it is unreliable and they do not know where to get credible, accurate on-line health information aimed at their needs.

In response to these findings, the Asthma Society of Ireland worked with researcher Mary Hughes on developing an innovative on-line programme for secondary school students.  Unlike traditional educational programmes for young people who have asthma, this programme is aimed at increasing the awareness of the general student population in order to support those among them who have asthma.

It is envisaged that this programme will empower young people in this age group in improving their asthma management and potentially reduce the overall GP visits and hospital admissions as a result of the condition. The programme has a focus on issues that are highlighted as being particularly relevant by those who participated in the doctoral research, in addition to some fundamental issues of symptom management.

Pilot Programme - Supported by Dyson

Groups of students from Kinsale School

The Asthma Society of Ireland are now launching the findings of the pilot of this Transition Year Asthma E-learning Programme that took place earlier this year. Supported by Dyson, the Asthma Society of Ireland E-learning Programme was rolled out in Kinsale Community School, Cork. On day one of the programme, there was an initial assessment of the level of knowledge and understanding on all aspects of the condition of the 120 participating students in advance of the programme.

The students then engaged in the four-module interactive E-learning programme which informed them on the management of asthma at home, at school, if engaging in sports and hobbies, and also in response to environmental triggers. Students were also provided with information and advice on medication use, spotting the signs and symptoms of the condition and what to do if they, or one of their peers had an exacerbation of their symptoms. 

On completion of the programme, students knowledge and understanding of asthma was assessed again, with the results demonstrating an increase of 33% increase after taking the programme.

One of the areas highlighted as most beneficial by students was their increased knowledge of the '5 Step Rule' for managing an asthma attack. All students received a certificate of programme completion for their Transitional Year Portfolio from the Asthma Society of Ireland and Dyson. Student teams also produced posters on one area of what they had learned during the E-learning programme and the winning teams received a prize for their endeavours.

One of the winning posters

Speaking about the pilot programme, the developer of the project Mary Hughes (Research and Education Officer for the Asthma Society of Ireland) commented; "The introduction of the Pilot Asthma E-learning Programme in Kinsale Community School has been a hugely successful initiative for the Asthma Society of Ireland and the pupils who took part. The key learning was that peer acceptance and understanding of asthma will make it easier for them to live with this condition.

"The programme provides young people with practical information that is available to them from a freely available, reliable source. In addition to this they learn how to access the Asthma Society of Ireland on-line and use the Asthma Coach App to help them in their everyday lives.

"I would like to thank the pilot scheme sponsors Dyson for helping us to make this programme happen and we strive to roll this programme out across secondary schools nationwide in 2014 – to encourage more young people to learn about the condition and suport those with asthma to improve their control.”

National Rollout of the Programme in 2014

Winners of the Poster Competition

Building on the success of the pilot programme, the Asthma Society of Ireland is hoping to roll out their E-learning programme nationwide in 2014 to give young people with asthma the chance to gain vital information about their own condition, and increase the support available to them from their peers. It also aims to ensure that students feel empowered and better placed to control their asthma once they have completed the programme and know that there is a secure place they can get information from on an on-going basis – www.asthma.ie.

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