High out-of-pocket costs have left many adults and children in Australia unable to afford critical care for battling asthma, according to a survey of 1,400 people with the affliction.

The study, which was led by The George Institute for Global Health and the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research, revealed half of all adults and one third of children with asthma were either skipping or decreasing dosages to make medicines last longer.

The results were published in the journal “JACI: In Practice,” and indicated an urgent need to promote discussions between patients and their general practitioners about the cost of medicines, including the availability of lower cost preventer treatments.

The survey found three-quarters of children and adults had partly or poorly controlled asthma symptoms, with young male adults the most likely to under-use asthma treatments.

The combination of improper dosages and decisions to forgo treatment led to 45 percent of adults and nearly two-thirds of children requiring urgent healthcare treatment for their asthma in the previous year.

“Asthma affects around one in nine Australians and is one of the world’s leading causes of death and disability,” senior research fellow Tracey-Lea Laba of The George Institute said. “We know that preventer inhalers can be incredibly effective at controlling symptoms and preventing people from being hospitalised or even from dying of asthma, yet our study has found that out-of-pocket costs are preventing Australians from accessing medicines which can be life-saving.”

The National Health and Medical Research Council, NPS MedicineWise and Asthma Australia funded the survey, which also found about four in 10 adults with asthma had not used medication containing inhaled corticosteroids in the previous year.

This is despite the fact that Australian guidelines recommend this type of medication should be taken by almost all adults with asthma, and while Australia has a national medicines subsidy program through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, most patients still have a co-payment.

“Asthma is a long-term disease and one where you really need to keep the inflammation under control by taking a preventative medicine and not just relying on short-term symptom relief from a blue inhaler,” Professor Helen Reddel of the Woolcock Institute noted. “We need doctors to talk to their patients to stress that this Band-Aid approach does not work, and can leave them hospitalised or even worse as a result.”

The report comes as a mobile application developed by researchers at the Joondalup Health Campus and Princess Margaret Hospitals in Australia has demonstrated artificial intelligence could help accurately diagnose common respiratory disorders like asthma in children.

The algorithm’s ability to accurately identify lower respiratory tract diseases from pure upper respiratory disease could also be useful in telehealth and remote area medicine.

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