Miles Weinberger, MD
Professor of Pediatrics
Allergy, Immunology, and Pulmonary 

Rights and Responsibilities of Patients with Asthma

The management of asthma is most successful when the patient and/or family assumes an active role. To begin to do this, the patient (and/or family) must be effectively assertive in both accessing the medical care system and assuming responsibility for the day-to-day management of the disease. There are both reasonable expectations that patients and their families should have of their medical care providers, and they must also accept responsibilities for the actual administration of the care.

The Asthmatic's Bill of Rights

Asthma is the most frequent chronic disease in childhood and remains common throughout life. It is the leading cause of hospitalization in children, a frequent cause in adults, and an exceedingly frequent cause of emergency medical care at all ages. Asthma has been known to the medical profession for over 2000 years. The number of medications effective for asthma has increased considerably since the 1970s, and the sales of those medications have been progressively increasing.

There is a major disparity, however, in the effectiveness with which therapeutic measures have been applied. Well-intentioned but misguided practices, occasional indifference, and medical attention focused on the immediate problem, rather than a comprehensive approach, cause frustrations for patients and their families. State-of-the-art care usually results in a high degree of successful control of asthma with acceptably safe and reasonably convenient therapy. Patients should therefore not settle for less. They should insist on:

  • The right to immediate care when needed for respiratory distress
  • The right to intensive treatment until respiratory distress is relieved
  • The right to measures that prevent the need for future emergency care
  • The right to accurate scientific medical knowledge about asthma
  • The right to a comprehensive evaluation to assure the diagnosis, characterize the pattern of symptoms, assess the severity, and identify the triggers of asthma
  • The right to an organized rational therapeutic plan and instruction to implement that plan
  • The right to medication that can safely, rapidly, and effectively relieve symptoms
  • The right to measures that can prevent frequent return of troublesome symptoms without side effects of treatment
  • The right to be able to take part in the same activities as non-asthmatics, including competitive athletics
  • The right to a knowledgeable physician with interest and expertise in managing asthma.

The Responsibilities of the Patient and/or Family

Asthma is a recurring or chronic problem. Treatment is best when applied by a patient or parent who understands the disease and its treatment. It is the physician's responsibility to determine the safest effective treatment and teach the patient how to apply that treatment. It is the patient's responsibility to:

  • Understand what asthma is and what it does
  • Know the names of the medications, both the generic name and brand name. (Please don't identify medications just by color! Colors for the same medication can vary with the manufacturer. All of the medications have names and should be clearly labeled! And besides, doctors often don't know what color they are!)
  • Know what each medication does for asthma
  • Know when each medication should be taken
  • Know possible side effects of each medication
  • Keep regularly scheduled appointments
  • Keep their asthma controlled
  • Know when to call the doctor for advice
  • Maintain a healthy active life-style if there are no other limiting medical problems
  • Discuss concerns regarding the asthma or its treatment with their physician.

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