Background: Approximately 10 to 15% of new-onset asthma in adults is attributable to occupational exposure. The occupational history is the most important instrument in the diagnosis of occupational asthma (OA).
Study objectives: To assess the quality of occupational histories obtained by health-care providers and to measure the prevalence of clinician-diagnosed OA in a population at elevated risk for OA.
Setting: An academic US Department of Veteran Affairs medical center.
Study population: One hundred ninety-seven adults (age range, 18 to 55 years) with newly diagnosed asthma who had completed pulmonary function testing (PFT) and a structured respiratory health questionnaire.
Measurements: We conducted a structured retrospective comparison of occupational respiratory health history documented by clinicians with data documented by patients on a structured questionnaire. We analyzed PFT results to assess physiologic impairment. We also conducted a structured examination of the actions taken by health-care providers based on their occupational history assessments.
Results: Patient self-reports of respiratory exposures and symptoms were common. A job title was documented by one or more clinicians in 75% of patient medical records. Additional occupational history data were charted much less frequently. A diagnosis of OA was made in only 2% of patients. Clinical action to address OA was documented for only one patient.
Conclusions: Clinicians who manage adults with newly diagnosed asthma take incomplete occupational histories. We detected discordance between the occupational exposure histories documented by patients and those charted by clinicians. OA may go unrecognized and possibly undermanaged by clinicians.