Thousands of Missouri children living with asthma can breathe easier thanks to the work of Ben Francisco, PhD ’06.
Francisco’s doctoral research while he attended the School looked at the growing problem of pediatric asthma and found that talking and listening to children, and helping them improve their self-care skills, dramatically improves their quality of life.
“Education is really important for good asthma outcomes,” said Francisco, a research assistant professor with the University of Missouri’s School of Medicine and a nurse practitioner for University Physicians’ Pediatric Pulmonary & Allergy Group. “Health care professionals need to talk to children and find out what they are experiencing. Children want to understand what asthma is and what they can do to make it better.”
Francisco’s work led to the creation of Asthma Ready CommunitiesTM, a statewide program to improve asthma care. Funded by the Missouri Foundation for Health, the program trains health-care professionals and other caregivers to treat asthma patients based on expert guidelines.
“Dr. Francisco empowers health professionals, especially school nurses, through knowledge,” said Peggy Gaddy, coordinator, Missouri Asthma Prevention and Control Program. “School nurses have voiced their appreciation for the time he provides them both as a group and individually to give them the confidence to address asthma.”
His innovative approach to addressing this growing public health program was recognized when his team received the 2008 Missouri Governor’s Award for Innovation.
“Not only has Ben’s work greatly offered more timely treatment to the patients, it has enabled healthcare professionals via clinically proven data to improve their assessment and treatment plans. All this because he took a new approach to looking at an existing problem and then used proven yet innovative research techniques to prove his case,” said Barbara J. Levy, honorary alumni, Sinclair School of Nursing.
Francisco’s current research is assessing the effectiveness of these asthma education programs and finding the most cost-effective methods for getting training and equipment to the professionals who need them. More than 900 mid-level health care leaders from across the state have graduated from Francisco’s asthma education program, but he says that is not enough to meet the problem. He wants to train and mobilize a much larger workforce of health-care providers on the front lines.
“What it boils down to, if you or a family member is having difficulty breathing, we want there to be someone who knows what to do and will help you get the care you need, whether it’s in a school, or a clinic or in a hospital,” Francisco said.
Face-to-face training isn’t the most cost-effective or timely method of training the numbers of people needed to address the problem, so he is researching the use of web-based training and other distance-learning strategies for front-line workers and rural health-care providers. He also helps train today’s health-care students so they will have this specialized knowledge when they graduate.
“We’re looking forward,” said Francisco. “While we’re out there trying to help the current generation of patients, we’re also thinking about producing the next generation of nurse practitioners and physicians who will go out with a special interest and skill set in asthma."