BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVE:

Poor adherence to recommended screening for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and pediatricians’ lack of confidence in providing care for children with ASD reflect quality gaps in primary care. This study aimed to increase the proportion of toddlers screened for ASD and improve physicians’ self-efficacy in providing care to children with ASD.

METHODS:

Twenty-six Utah primary care practices participated in a 3 to 6 month learning collaborative (LC) to improve identification and ongoing care of children with ASD. Monthly chart audits assessed whether an ASD screening tool was administered at 18- and 24-month visits. Physicians completed pre-LC and post-LC surveys to assess changes in self-efficacy in providing care and changes in perceived barriers to implementation of screening and caring for children with ASD.

RESULTS:

Before the LC, 15% of 18- and 24-month visits had documented ASD screening, compared with 91% during the last month of the LC (P < .001). This rate of ASD screening was sustained 4 years after the LC by most practices. Compared with survey responses before the LC, physicians reported significant improvement in their ability to care for children with ASD and decreases in their perceived barriers to screening and caring for children with ASD.

CONCLUSIONS:

The LC was effective in increasing and sustaining recommended ASD screening of toddlers and improving physicians’ perceived self-efficacy in caring for children with ASD. Improving primary care screening, skills, and knowledge may improve the timing of diagnosis, initiation of treatment, quality of care, and outcomes for children with ASD.

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