Asthma UK Centre for Applied Research

Online COVID-19 information for people with asthma followed WHO guidelines: more asthma action plan advice is needed

A publication in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice has found that online information on COVID-19 for people with asthma largely followed the WHO emergency risk communication guidelines, with some self-management strategies, but omitted asthma action plan advice

Members of the Asthma UK Centre for Applied Research have published an article in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice which reviewed COVID-19 information available online for people with asthma.

After COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in 2020 posing a risk to vulnerable communities, such as people living with severe asthma, the team wanted to assess whether online information aligned with risk communication and asthma self-management guidelines.

Using information from five English-speaking countries, the research discovered that organisations producing COVID-19 online information for people with asthma largely followed the World Health Organization (WHO) emergency risk communication (ERC) guideline, and most provided asthma self-management strategies. However, just over half of the organisations provided information relevant to the self-management elements of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) asthma guidelines and only 33% gave asthma action plan advice.

The study

Organisational webpages providing COVID-19 information for people with asthma in the five majority English-speaking countries, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom and United States, were downloaded on dates around a month apart to assess information changes over time. The team identified components of the WHO ERC and the NICE asthma guidelines, including:

  • Building trust
  • Providing non-technical and consistent messaging
  • Promoting health protection actions
  • Adherence to preventer medication
  • Having an asthma action plan
  • Speaking to a healthcare professional

Readability of the information was also assessed using the Flesch-Kincaid (F-K) and the Simple Measure of Gobbledygook (SMOG) grade formulas. The average readability across all the samples websites was the equivalent to a US Grade level 10 (15-16 years). Only 21% of the organisations gave information written at or below US Grade level 8 (13-14 years).

Future recommendations

“Health information should build trust, promote health protection actions, and ensure adherence to recommended health measures.”

The research team discovered that only a minority of organisations provided explicit self-management information for people with asthma during the COVID-19 pandemic. They propose that when providing information about COVID-19 to those with asthma, organisations should clearly address self-management advice. Additionally, future COVID-19 information should be written at lower grade levels to increase information accessibility.

Authors on the paper include Dr Kirstie McClatchey, Research Fellow on the IMP2ART project, Dr Tracy Jackson, Patient and Public Engagement Research Fellow at the Centre, Noelle Morgan, Patient and Public Involvement group member and Professor Hilary Pinnock, Centre Lead for Optimising management of asthma attacks.

Dr McClatchey said that this paper was an important assessment of information available to people with asthma during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 “It is welcome that COVID-19 information aligns to the WHO Emergency Risk Communication guideline. Organisations providing information aimed at people living with asthma should promote following an asthma action plan during the pandemic. Asthma action plans are a crucial component of effective asthma self-management that can reduce asthma attacks, hospitalisations, and improve patient outcomes.”

Dr Kirstie McClatcheyLead author

Read the paper

This publication is available from the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice.

Cite as

Kirstie McClatchey, Tracy Jackson, Brigitte Delaney, Noelle Morgan, Hilary Pinnock, Amy Hai Yan Chan, COVID-19 information for people living with asthma: A rapid review of publicly available information, The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice (2021)

Project: IMP2ART

Patient and Public Involvement at the Centre