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This is a plain English summary of an original research article. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and reviewer(s) at the time of publication.

People with asthma who receive supported self-management are less likely to attend A&E or be admitted to hospital. The interventions are unlikely to increase overall costs for healthcare services. Those who self-manage are also likely to have more controlled asthma and a better quality of life.

This extensive overview of systematic reviews included evidence from 270 randomised controlled trials exploring the effects of asthma self-management on healthcare utilisation and costs. Self-management programmes were slightly more expensive, but this cost was likely to be offset by reducing unplanned medical visits and improving patient quality of life.

Trials covered different self-care education programmes delivered in a range of contexts. However, programmes which included written action plans supported by regular professional review were found to be most beneficial.

These findings are in keeping with current guideline recommendations and emphasise that supported self-management programmes for asthma should be prioritised.

Why was this study needed?

Asthma is a common long-term condition which causes wheezing and shortness of breath. In the UK, 185 people are admitted to hospital every day because of asthma attacks. Treating asthma costs the NHS about £1 billion per year.

Current guidelines recommend self-management programmes for people with asthma, which centre on education and written personalised asthma action plans. This is most effective when it’s supported through regular reviews with a professional.

Self-management programmes aren’t always delivered effectively. The 2014 UK National Review of asthma deaths found that self-management training was only reported for 23%.

This large systematic overview aimed to gather the available evidence on supported self-management for asthma, from systematic reviews and recent trials. The reviewers focused on how self-management might affect asthma control and the use of healthcare resources.

What did this study do?

This meta-review, or overview, included 270 randomised controlled trials in 27 systematic reviews alongside later randomised trials.

The studies were identified by two large reviews commissioned to provide an overview of self-supported management in asthma: the Practical Systematic Review of Self-Management Support (PRISMS) and the Reducing Care Utilisation through Self-Management Interventions (RECURSIVE) health economic review.

Self-management was defined as giving someone “confidence to deal with medical management, role management and emotional management of their condition.” The main outcome of the PRISMS review was unplanned use of healthcare services, and for the RECRUSIVE review it was costs and cost effectiveness.

Trials came from 29 middle- to high-income countries and were published between 1979 and 2015. Most trials were of 12 months duration. Interventions and target population (for example, children or minority groups) varied across studies.

What did it find?

  • Six moderate to high quality reviews found that supported self-management reduced hospital admissions, with relative risks ranging from 0.50 to 0.79 compared to the control group. This suggests that admissions could be reduced by about one quarter to a half. Another six reviews, of variable quality, found inconsistent effects.
  • Four moderate to high quality reviews found a reduction in A&E attendances, with significant relative risks ranging from 0.73 to 0.82. Four narrative reviews found an effect in at least half of their trials, one review showed inconsistent results and one showed no benefit.
  • Three high quality reviews found that people receiving supported self-management had fewer unscheduled consultations, with relative risks of around 0.68. Three moderate quality reviews found an effect in at least half of their trials, while two poor quality reviews had inconsistent results.
  • Looking at target groups and healthcare contexts, some reviews found a benefit of culture-specific programmes and those targeting children. Interventions involving education, action plans and regular professional review were most beneficial.
  • The RECURSIVE economic review (24 trials, 7061 participants) showed that self-management was more costly than usual care. The researchers report that the cost is likely to be offset by savings from reduced healthcare utilisation and conclude that overall it does not lead to significant increases in total healthcare costs.

What does current guidance say on this issue?

Guidelines from the British Thoracic Society and the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network advise that everyone with asthma should receive supported self-management in the form of a written personalised action plan that is regularly reviewed by a health professional.

The guidelines emphasise that every asthma consultation, in both primary and secondary care, gives an opportunity to review and reinforce the person’s education and understanding. Brief simple education linked to patient goals is most likely to be acceptable to patients. Culturally appropriate materials should be available for ethnic minority groups.

NICE is currently preparing guidelines on the management of asthma.

What are the implications?

Asthma self-management support is already recommended in the UK. This comprehensive body of evidence reinforces current guidance to prioritise the provision of programmes supported by regular professional review.

People with asthma, as with other long-term conditions, can be empowered by learning to manage their condition confidently. This can ease the burden on the NHS by reducing the number of unplanned visits to healthcare services.

Further clarity on the optimal components of self-management support for different population groups would be beneficial. Studies with longer follow up might confirm long-term sustainability of self-management interventions in asthma.


Citation and Funding

Pinnock H, Parke HL, Panagioti M, et al; PRISMS and RECURSIVE groups. Systematic meta-review of supported self-management for asthma: a healthcare perspective. BMC Med. 2017;15(1):64.

This project was funded by the National Institute for Health Research [Health Services and Delivery Research Programme] (project numbers 11/1014/04 and 11/1014/06).



Asthma UK. Asthma facts and statistics. London: Asthma UK; 2017.

BTS / SIGN. British guideline on the management of asthma: A national clinical guideline. London. British Thoracic Society / Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network; 2016.

NICE. Asthma Management. London: National Institute for Health and Care Excellence; 2015.

Panagioti M, Richardson G, Murray E, et al. Reducing care utilisation through self-management interventions (RECURSIVE): a systematic review and meta-analysis. Health Serv Deliv Res. 2014;2:54.

Royal College of Physicians. Why asthma still kills: the National Review of Asthma Deaths (NRAD) Confidential Enquiry report. London: Royal College of Physicians; 2014.

Taylor SJC, Pinnock H, Epiphaniou E et al. A rapid synthesis of the evidence on interventions supporting self-management for people with long- term conditions. (PRISMS Practical Systematic Review of Self-Management Support for long-term conditions). Health Serv Deliv Res. 2014;2:54.

Produced by the University of Southampton and Bazian on behalf of NIHR through the NIHR Dissemination Centre


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