Improving Asthma Outcomes in Minority Children

A Randomized, Controlled Trial of Parent Mentors

In this small, randomized control trial, when parents of minority, asthmatic children were provided with parent mentors (PMs) similar to themselves to help them understand and care for their children’s asthma, their children wheezed less and had fewer emergency room visits, and they lost fewer days at work. Results from this relatively inexpensive program were even better when parents extensively participated, resulting in an actual net cost savings.

In the U.S., minority children are disproportionately affected by asthma, with asthma prevalence, hospitalization and mortality rates all significantly higher for minority children than white children. This first of its kind study looked at whether trained parent mentors, selected based on their experience caring for their own asthmatic children and trained and assigned to assist parents from their communities who are similar to them, could improve asthma management for minority kids. This study involved 220 Latino or African-American children between the ages of two and 18, living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and primarily diagnosed and regularly treated for asthma. Only 131 children remained in the study for its 12-month duration.

Key Findings:

  • The 27 highly participating families, based on the number of meetings and phone interactions they completed, experienced a 30 percentage point decrease in all three outcome measures of wheezing, coughing and difficulty breathing. Control participants, who received regular asthma care but without PM support, reduced coughing and difficulty breathing; low participants reduced coughing only.
  • Highly participating families had significant reductions in asthma exacerbation, missed school and work days and emergency room visits. Control subjects had some improvements; low participants saw no improvements.
  • Average monthly cost per patient for the PM intervention was $60.42.
  • For highly participating families, the program resulted in a net cost savings of $46.16.

Larger sample sizes and additional studies are needed to clarify these results but PMs do seem to provide asthma management benefits to families, especially to those who participate extensively in the program, at a reasonable cost and potentially with a net cost savings. PM programs also provide employment opportunities for PMs themselves. The authors suggest both parent and adult peer mentoring programs could be an effective, low-cost approach to combat minority disparities in management of asthma and other chronic health conditions.