A new report shows that a University of North Texas Health Science Center (UNTHSC) educational initiative aimed at educating more than 350 health care professionals in rural areas of east Texas to improve their ability to talk to patients about chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and more accurately test for and treat COPD contributed significantly fewer hospital admissions due to complications of COPD in 12 counties in the region.

For the year-long study, funded by Boehringer Ingelheim and Pfizer, UNTHSC independently launched a series of continuing education (CME) activities and follow-up cases targeting the counties of east Texas with the highest rates of preventable hospitalizations due to COPD.

“Almost immediately, we began seeing improvements in physician confidence related to guideline-appropriate treatment, testing and patient education,” says Pam McFadden, associate vice president of UNTHSC’s Center for Professional and Continuing Education. “In on-site and follow-up interviews and surveys, everyone who attended said they would increase the use of proper testing, use proven smoking cessation strategies and work locally to overcome the barriers to improving COPD outcomes.”

According to Andrew Crim, the Center’s executive director, increased testing would have been enough to make a strong case for the need for more education. “However, the true measure of CME is improving patient care and community health,” he says. “So we studied the impact of these educational efforts long term by analyzing hospital admission data already collected by the state and other sources of information.”

To measure the long-term outcomes, researchers looked at the number of prescriptions for drugs recommended to treat COPD, the number of new diagnoses, and the number of potentially preventable hospitalizations caused by COPD reported by the Texas Department of State Health Services. Rates before and after the educational activities were compared, and the results were significant, according to the researchers.

The Texas Public Use Data File, a combined set of statistics reported by each hospital in the state, shows that 2 to 3 months before the health care providers in these counties attended the activities, there were 1,538 potentially preventable hospitalizations due to COPD. In the same time period following the programs, only 1,402 were observed—a reduction of 136. The data also show that other counties of similar size and population saw reductions, but the counties targeted by the study saw a 49% greater reduction, saving the health care system more than $3.4 million.

Source: UNT Health Science Center