But thanks to a Duquesne University professor and her team, children with asthma can still breathe easy.
The university's school and community-based asthma clinic, which treats more than 80 children in the Pittsburgh region, has quickly gone virtual, offering regular check-ups, education and help with accessing medication and needed resources, such as food and other health services.
"The Duquesne Asthma Clinic is continuing and we are checking with all patients at least once a month to provide the support they need to maintain asthma control," said Dr. Jennifer Elliott, associate pharmacy professor at Duquesne. "We needed to quickly change some protocols to offer services through the telemedicine platform, but thanks to the support of others at the university, it has been a pretty smooth transition, and the feedback from families has been extremely positive."
Elliott has formed partnerships with six school districts and designed a program that annually screens more than 8,000 students for asthma, and connects those who screen positive with the care they need.
To make the virtual transition, the program mailed portable, hand-held devices that measure the ability to push air out of the lungs to families that did not already have them, which helps in determining if medication adjustments are needed. Elliott and her team meet with families using Zoom technology.
"One of the benefits of using telemedicine is that we see the child and caregivers together; it promotes family-based processes," Elliott said. "The family plays a central role in promoting effective asthma management, from helping the child avoid triggers to monitoring symptoms and making sure medications are taken as prescribed and with appropriate technique."
Elliott said her team is grateful for an existing partnership with Global Links, a medical relief organization, which has helped ensure families have necessary medical equipment during this time of increased demand.
The pandemic is just the latest barrier Elliott's team has overcome to deliver care to those in greatest need.
Working primarily in underserved areas where access to care has been difficult, she and her team created seven school- and community-based asthma clinics to provide comprehensive asthma care during the school day. Working with physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, school nurses and pharmacies, the community-based model helps ensure both access to the needed medication and that the treatment regimen is followed by the child.
Elliott's team has also launched a virtual smoking cessation program, partnering with several other local organizations to ensure that individuals who sign up also have access to nicotine replacement therapy. Helping caregivers to stay clear of cigarettes and other tobacco products is one of the most important ways parents can help their children, especially those with asthma. Smokers are also likely to be more vulnerable to COVID-19, so the virtual program marks another way Elliott and her team are responding to current healthcare needs.