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J Asthma. 1996;33(6):385-93.

The effect of structured versus conventional inhaler education in medical housestaff.

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  • 1Asthma Centre, Toronto Hospital, Ontario, Canada.


Despite the importance of adequate inhaler technique in the care of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, physicians have often been shown to have poor knowledge of correct inhaler use. At present, postgraduate teaching programs appear to leave physicians to acquire inhaler handling skills informally in the context of day-to-day patient care. We undertook the present study to determine if one brief structured educational intervention would be adequate to teach postgraduate physicians inhaler skills that would be retained over long periods of time. We also compared the efficacy of this intervention to traditional education methods. We recruited 52 postgraduate trainees in internal medicine at a large university hospital; 26 were in the educational intervention group and 26 were in the control group. Physicians in the intervention group were asked to respond to a questionnaire on inhaler use and to demonstrate the correct use of a metered-dose inhaler (MDI), an MDI with a pacing chamber and a multidose dry-powder inhaler. These intervention subjects were then instructed on proper inhaler usage by a qualified nurse educator. Eight months later, testing was repeated in the intervention group and was undertaken in the control group. Questionnaire scores were significantly higher in the intervention group at the 8-month follow-up than at baseline (59% vs. 42%; p < 0.05). Similarly, the scores of the intervention group at follow-up were significantly higher than those of the control group (59% vs. 39%; p < 0.05). There was no significant difference between the baseline scores of the intervention group and those of the control group. The mean demonstration score was significantly higher in the intervention group at follow-up than at baseline (68% vs. 39%; p < 0.001) and was also higher than that of the control group (68% vs. 44%; p < 0.001). There was no significant difference between the scores for all devices between the intervention group before education and the control group. Our data show that one brief teaching session is sufficient to produce a sustained improvement in knowledge and handling of inhalers by postgraduate physicians. The knowledge and skills of the physicians educated in our study were not only better than before they had received instruction, but were better than the knowledge and skills of postgraduate trainees from the same institution who had received no formal training. This latter observation suggests a failure of traditional unstructured postgraduate training programs to teach this practical patient care skill.

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