Community Health Workers and Environmental Interventions for Children with Asthma: A Systematic Review

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  • Journal of Asthma, 46:564576, 2009Copyright C 2009 Informa Healthcare USA, Inc.ISSN: 0277-0903 print / 1532-4303 onlineDOI: 10.1080/02770900902912638

    ORIGINAL ARTICLE

    Community Health Workers and Environmental Interventionsfor Children with Asthma: A Systematic Review

    Julie Postma, Ph.D.,1, Catherine Karr,2 and Gail Kieckhefer1

    1University of Washington School of Nursing, Family and Child Nursing, Seattle2Pediatrics, Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle

    Community health worker (CHW)delivered, home-based environmental interventions for pediatric asthma were systematically reviewed. SevenPubMed/MEDLINE listed randomized controlled trials that encompassed the following intervention criteria were identified: (1) home-based; (2)delivered by a CHW; (3) delivered to families with children with asthma; and (4) addressed multiple environmental triggers for asthma. Details ofresearch design, intervention type, and setting, interventionist, population served, and the evaluated outcomes were abstracted.Outcome assessment was broad and non-uniform. Categories included direct mediators of improved health outcomes, such as trigger-related knowl-edge, trigger reduction behaviors and allergen or exposure levels, and asthma-related health outcomes: change in lung function, medication use,asthma symptoms, activity limitations, and health care utilization. Indirect mediators of health outcomes, or psychosocial influences on health, weremeasured in few studies.Overall, the studies consistently identified positive outcomes associated with CHW-delivered interventions, including decreased asthma symptoms,daytime activity limitations, and emergency and urgent care use. However, improvements in trigger reduction behaviors and allergen levels, hypoth-esized mediators of these outcomes, were inconsistent. Trigger reduction behaviors appeared to be tied to study-based resource provision.To better understand the mechanism through which CHW-led environmental interventions cause a change in asthma-related health outcomes, infor-mation on the theoretical concepts that mediate behavior change in trigger control (self-efficacy, social support) is needed. In addition, evaluating theinfluence of CHWs as clinic liaisons that enhance access to health professionals, complement clinic-based teaching, and improve appropriate use ofasthma medications should be considered, alongside their effect on environmental management. A conceptual model identifying pathways for futureinvestigation is presented.

    Keywords asthma, allergens, patient education, community health aides, review

    IntroductionPediatric asthma is a significant public health problem.

    In the United States, approximately 6.5 million children(younger than 18 years of age) have asthma, with rates dispro-portionately affecting low-income and minority populations(1). Based on evidence that controlling exposure to indoorenvironmental triggers reduces asthma symptoms and ex-acerbations, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute(NHLBI) guidelines highlight control of environmental fac-tors among the four core components of comprehensive pedi-atric asthma management (2). While the majority of asthmamanagement education occurs in the clinical setting, increas-ingly, multifaceted environmental interventions are deliveredin the home setting. Home visitation offers an opportunityto assess and address indoor environmental triggers whilereinforcing clinical education.

    The NHLBIs guidelines cite several randomized con-trolled trials (RCTs) of interventions using clinical special-ists (e.g., medical doctors, registered nurses) or communityhealth workers (CHWs) to deliver the interventions (38).CHWs are members of the communities they serve and arewell-positioned to establish rapport with families and provideculturally appropriate services (9). Previous studies supportthe effectiveness of CHWs in improving diabetes knowledge,management of hypertension, and appropriate health care uti-

    Corresponding author: Julie Marie Postma, Ph.D., Washington StateUniversity College of Nursing, PO Box 1495, Spokane, WA 99210; E-mail:Jpostma@wsu.edu

    lization (1012). Here we provide a systematic review of theeffectiveness of CHW-delivered environmental interventionsfor pediatric asthma and include a conceptual model to guidefuture research in this area.

    MethodsWe identified RCTs that encompassed the following inter-

    vention criteria: (1) home-based; (2) delivered by a CHW; (3)delivered to families with children with asthma; and (4) ad-dressed multiple environmental triggers for asthma. CHWswere defined as interventionists who were specifically trainedto deliver the intervention but had no formal professional orparaprofessional training in healthcare (13).

    Studies were identified in a four-step PubMed/MEDLINEsearch using the terms: (1) asthma (major); (2) air pollutionOR environmental exposure OR allergens OR environmen-tal trigger OR environmental pollution; (3) patient educa-tion OR intervention OR skills OR remediation OR healtheducation OR education; and (4) community health aidesOR community health worker OR lay educator OR com-munity health services. Searches were then combined withthe following limits: Humans, Clinical Trial, Meta-Analysis,Randomized Controlled Trial, English. This yielded 40 pub-lications. No other publications were identified in a five-stepCINAHL search using the search terms: (1) asthma (majorconcept); (2) environmental pollution OR antigens; (3) com-munity health workers OR health educators OR allied healthpersonnel; (4) education OR health services; (5) clinical tri-als. All CINAHL search terms were exploded and used as

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  • COMMUNITY HEALTH WORKERS & ENVIRONMENTAL TRIGGERS 565

    exact subject headings or key words. Unpublished data werenot considered.

    An abstraction form was used to document research de-sign, population served, intervention type and setting, andinterventionist. Eight publications met the criteria, one ofwhich reports allergen and exposure results from a subset ofhomes in the study by Krieger et al. Exclusions included (ina hierarchical order) interventions that were not RCTs (12),focused on adults (2), addressed a single trigger (9), deliv-ered in a non-home setting (3) (e.g., school or emergencyroom), and/or were delivered by non-CHWs (6). (One pub-lication included in the review focused on outcomes relatedto cockroaches, although the intervention addressed multi-ple triggers. Related outcomes will be presented in futurepublications.) In addition to the primary publications, fivecompanion papers and a project website were used to gatheradditional detail about the studies (1419).

    We systematically evaluated the state of the evidencefor the practice of CHWs in environmental management ofchildhood asthma. Given the heterogeneity of the outcomemeasures, statistical methods were not used to combine theresults. Thus, results are qualitatively synthesized and pre-sented in a table format (20).

    ResultsStudy Characteristics

    All of the studies were published within the last 5 years andconducted in urban settings in the U.S. (Table 1). One studywas conducted at numerous sites (6). Sample sizes rangedfrom 100 (7) to 937 participants (6) and included childrenwith current asthma 2 to 16 years of age (21). With theexception of one study whose participants were screened forasthma using a questionnaire (22), eligibility requirementsincluded either a physician diagnosis of asthma or a recentvisit to a clinic, emergency room, or hospital for asthma.Two studies also required at least one positive skin test to anallergen (6, 8).

    Recruitment occurred through self- and physician refer-rals (21), school-based programs (7, 8, 22), community andpublic health clinics, local hospital and emergency rooms (5,23), and community agencies and residents (5). One studydid not report recruitment methods (6).

    Selection of control groups and the type of usual carethey received varied. Four studies used parallel control andintervention groups (5, 7, 8, 23) with provision of the in-tervention in total or in a condensed form at the end of thestudy. One study had three arms: (1) an observation-onlyor attention control group, (2) a treatment group, (3) anda case-matched control group in which asthma hospitaliza-tions and emergency department visits were recorded (21).A two-by-two factorial design to evaluate environmental andphysician-feedback interventions in the same study popula-tion was used in one study with a traditional non-treated con-trol group (6). A staggered design, such that the groups thatserved as controls in Wave 1 received the full interventionin Wave 2 was used in one study (19). Community BasedParticipatory Research (CBPR) principles were cited in fourstudies (5, 7, 22, 23) as providing the basis for using either alow-intensity control group versus a usual care group and/orproviding intervention materials to the control group at the

    end of the study (15, 16, 22). Length of follow-up rangedfrom 4 months (8) to 2 years (6), with five studies followingparticipants for 1 year after the start of the intervention (5, 7,2123). There was no blinding in five studies, only the datacollectors were blinded in the one study (7) and blindingwas not reported in another study (22). In three studies, theinterventionists were also the data collectors (8, 21, 23).

    In general, study subjects were between the ages of 5and 9 years, low-income, and ethnic minorities (Table 2). Inparticular, subjects were all or primarily African Americanin three studies (7, 21, 23) and almost all Hispanic in an-other study (8). African Americans and Hispanics made upthe majority of participants in two studies (6, 22). Kriegeret al. enrolled the most ethnically diverse sample with sub-jects reporting being African American, Hispanic, Viet-namese, and white.

    Five studies reported the atopic status of their participantsat baseline. Between 28.2% of participants in one study (18)and 65% and 75% of the control and treatment group par-ticipants in another study, respectively, had more than onepositive skin test for an allergen at baseline (7).

    Characteristics, Training, and Supervision of CommunityHealth Workers

    The CHWs came from, lived, or worked in the same com-munity as study subjects, with the exception of one study(23) (Table 3). One study reported that the CHWs either hadasthma or had close family members with asthma (16). Onlyone author reported the minimum educational backgroundrequired to be a CHW (22).

    Three studies quantified training requirements for theCHWs (16, 18, 22) and three others discussed training pro-grams in which the CHWs had participated (8, 15, 23). Interms of quality control, the use of standardized protocolswas reported in three studies and materials posted on anotherstudys website suggest the same. Supervision was only re-ported in one study, whereby CHWs met with the primaryinvestigator every other week and with the projects steeringcommittee quarterly (16).

    InterventionsSocial cognitive theory (SCT) and its precursor social

    learning theory was cited most frequently as guiding the in-tervention approach, with five of seven studies incorporatingcomponents of SCT into their intervention delivery (Table 4).For example, to improve caregivers self efficacy (confidence)to reduce exposures to triggers, CHWs promoted behavioralcapability (the knowledge and skills to perform a behavior),via role modeling (7, 16, 18, 19, 21).

    The health belief model was used extensively by Parkeret al. to guide their intervention, from the educationalmessages developed to the resources and referrals provided.Organizational and community level theories were alsosynthesized in their comprehensive ecological stressmodel, which was presented, but not tested, in their pub-lished study. Social networks and social support conceptswere cited by two authors to validate the use of CHWsas appropriate interventionists (16, 19). In one study, thetranstheoretical stages of change guided the collection ofdata on caregivers smoking status and the delivery of astage-specific intervention approach (16).

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