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Background: Written action plans for asthma facilitate the early detection and treatment of an asthma exacerbation. Several versions of action plans have been published but the key components have not been determined. A study was undertaken to determine the impact of individual components of written action plans on asthma health outcomes.
Methods: Randomised controlled trials (n = 26) that evaluated asthma action plans as part of asthma self-management education were identified. Action plans were classified as being individualised and complete if they specified when and how to increase treatment (n = 17), and as incomplete (n = 4) or non-specific (n = 5) if they did not include these instructions.
Results: For individualised complete written action plans the use of 2–4 action points and the use of both inhaled (ICS) and oral (OCS) corticosteroid consistently improved asthma outcomes. Action points based on personal best peak expiratory flow (PEF) consistently improved health outcomes while those based on percentage predicted PEF did not. The efficacy of incomplete action plans was inconclusive because of insufficient data. Non-specific action plans led to improvements in knowledge and symptoms.
Conclusion: Individualised written action plans based on personal best PEF, using 2–4 action points, and recommending both ICS and OCS for treatment of exacerbations consistently improve asthma health outcomes. Other variations appear less beneficial or require further study. These observations provide a guide to the types of variations possible with written action plans, and strongly support the use of individualised complete written action plans.