Letters to the Editor
Family Physicians Capable of Administering Immunotherapy
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Am Fam Physician. 2008 Apr 1;77(7):915-916.
Original Article: The Role of Allergens in Asthma
Issue Date: September 1, 2007
Available at: http://www.aafp.org/afp/20070901/675.html
to the editor: I was disappointed that the article, “The Role of Allergens in Asthma,” had such a strong recommendation regarding referral for immunotherapy. The four family physicians in our group, many family physicians throughout the Kansas City, Mo., area, and many general internists perform immunotherapy. The four of us are all Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) certified. As the director of several hospital-based ACLS courses, I have yet to have an allergist attend for the purpose of responding to a life-threatening reaction to immunotherapy injections. The rationale for this recommendation seems to have been turf protection, rather than legitimate patient care considerations.
in reply: We apologize for implying that family physicians should not or could not carry out allergen immunotherapy. Clearly, many physicians including Dr. Saxer and his colleagues in Kansas City, Mo., have taken the time to learn the technique and the necessary safety precautions. However, we understand that family physicians and general internists have limited time to spend on physician and patient education regarding immunotherapy. The new National Asthma Education and Prevention Program guidelines stress the importance of education for both allergen avoidance and immunotherapy.1 Many articles about severe reactions, as well as practice parameters for immunotherapy, have been published in the allergy literature.2,3 Courses on immunotherapy and the management of anaphylaxis are a well-attended feature of our meetings. We remain convinced that for the majority of busy family physicians, initiation of allergen specific immunotherapy is a legitimate reason for referral to a specialist.
1. National Asthma Education and Prevention Program. Expert Panel Report 3 (EPR-3): Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma-Summary Report 2007. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2007;120(5 suppl):S94–138. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/asthma. Accessed January 15, 2008.
2. Bernstein DI, Wanner M, Borish L, Liss GM, for the Immunotherapy Committee, American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Twelve-year survey of fatal reactions to allergen injections and skin testing: 1990–2001. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2004;113(6):1129–1136.
3. Joint Task Force on Practice Parameters; American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology; American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology; Joint Council of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Allergen immunotherapy: a practice parameter second update. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2007;120(3 suppl):S25–85.
editor's note: Although the recommendation to refer asthma patients to an allergy subspecialist for immunotherapy received a SORT evidence rating of “A” in the AFP article, this recommendation from the National Asthma Education and Prevention Program1 is actually based on expert consensus, or an evidence rating of “C”. A Cochrane review has concluded that immunotherapy benefits selected patients with asthma, not that it works better when administered by an allergist or primary care clinician.2 A third option would be to request that an allergist perform initial allergy testing and determine the dose, composition, and schedule for immunotherapy, with the family physician taking subsequent responsibility for the administration of injections and office monitoring. This co-management strategy leverages specialist expertise while maintaining continuity of care, and it may be a practical middle ground for family physicians caring for patients with allergen-triggered asthma.
1. Williams SG, Schmidt DK, Redd SC, Storms W, for the National Asthma Education and Prevention Program. Key clinical activities for quality asthma care. Recommendations of the National Asthma Education and Prevention Program. MMWR Recomm Rep. 2003;52(RR-6):1–8.
2. Abramson MJ, Puy RM, Weiner JM. Allergen immunotherapy for asthma. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2003;(4):CD001186.
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