In this study a randomised controlled trial was carried out to investigate the effectiveness of an education programme for patients with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). All asthma and COPD patients using medication and experiencing pulmonary symptoms were randomly assigned to the intervention (n=139) or usual-care group (n=137). The intervention consisted of taylor-made education conducted by a general practice assistant and focussing on a patients' technical skills and coping with the disease. Measurements took place at baseline, and after 1 and 2 years of follow-up. After 1 and 2 years the inhalation technique was significantly better in the intervention group compared to the usual-care group. No significant differences were observed regarding disease symptoms, health related quality of life, compliance, smoking cessation, self-efficacy, and coping. The results only support the implementation of the intervention regarding the technical skills (inhalation technique). However, given the importance of improvement of patients' coping and the need for more efficient care, we recommend further exploration of the possibilities of a more structured and intensive education programme. © 2003 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.