The trial, led by the Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI) saw specially trained pediatricians working in community clinics, where they could provide front-line allergy treatment and management advice. Children with three or fewer suspected food allergies took part in the trial, while those with suspected anaphylaxis (a more severe type of food allergy) or more than three food allergies were excluded.
The trial resulted in faster assessment times, was more acceptable to families, and delivered a similar quality of allergy care to specialist hospital-based clinics.
Based on these results, the trial team is calling for investment in a larger program to train community pediatricians, especially in regions where there are no child allergy specialists.
Lead author, MCRI's Professor Harriet Hiscock, said 63 percent of those seen by a pediatrician in the community were treated without needing an allergist referral, freeing up valuable hospital resources.
"As rates of food allergy rise, specialist allergy services are valiantly struggling to manage demand, but waiting times to access these services are long," Professor Hiscock said.
"In many regions around Australia, allergy care is primarily delivered by allergists, due to limited allergy training opportunities for general pediatricians and primary care physicians."
Research shows 10 percent of infants and 4 to 8 percent of children have a proven food allergy in Australia, a five-fold increase in the past decade.
Professor Hiscock said the study, which involved children aged 0-12 years, was the first to evaluate this community-based approach. A key component of the program is providing specialized allergy training to general pediatricians.
The study found out of the 115 participants in the community group, 81 percent saw a pediatrician by 12 months. This compared to 28 percent of 181 patients who received care at the RCH Allergy Clinic. Of these, 60 percent had not received an appointment at 12 months.
Time to assessment was also shorter, 2.4 months for a community pediatrician compared to 12 months for a hospital allergist.
Professor Hiscock said children in the community group reported fewer reactions to food, and families were more satisfied with the overall process.
Researchers from the Royal Children's Hospital, the University of Melbourne and Montreal Children's Hospital also contributed to the findings.