Assessment and Management of Patients with Chronic Cough by Certified Respiratory Educators: A Randomized Controlled Trial
BACKGROUND: The value of other health care professionals is increasingly being recognized to compensate for the shortage of physicians in Canada. Chronic cough is one of the most common reasons for consultation with a respirologist. In the present study, a prospective, randomized, controlled study was undertaken to determine whether Certified Respiratory Educators (CREs) could manage screened patients with chronic cough as effectively as respirologists.METHODS: An eight-week, prospective, parallel-design, randomized, controlled trial of the management of chronic cough patients was conducted. Patients were screened to exclude those with potentially life-threatening conditions. The primary outcome was the number of patients whose cough resolved or subjectively improved.RESULTS: A total of 198 patients were randomly assigned, and eight-week data were available on 151 patients. Mean age of the patients was 49.8±13.4 years, 70.2% were female and median cough duration was 16 months. The screening process was effective and referral wait times decreased from a median of two months to less than four weeks (P<0.0001). The educators averaged 4.9 contacts per patient compared with 2.7 by the physicians over the eight-week study period (P<0.0001). Most patients had had multiple therapeutic trials before referral. Cough resolved or improved in two-thirds of the patients at eight weeks; however, more patients showed improvement in the educator arm than in the physician arm, P<0.02. Cough-specific quality of life improved similarly in the two study arms at eight weeks (physician arm: 61.5±14.1 to 52.6±14.4, P<0.0001; CRE arm: 58.1±14.9 to 50.0±15.8, P=0.0003).CONCLUSIONS: CREs can safely and effectively assess, as well as appropriately treat, screened patients with chronic cough with a resultant reduction in wait times.