Respiratory Therapy and the Important Link Between Patient and Doctor
For many chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients, our diagnosis and first response to our disease can often determine our future pathway.
Too many times I hear about patients being written off with “it’s too late for them” because of low pulmonary function tests. The reality is many patients with poor pulmonary function test results could lead a better quality of life if they were directed to a patient’s best friend — a respiratory therapist.
The Ugly Truth
Not a day goes by where I don’t hear a story from a respiratory patient about how their doctor has told them to go home and make themselves comfortable; there’s nothing that can be done for them, so they should go home and rest. The tragedy is many patients aren’t given a chance to improve their health outcomes through changing their lifestyle.
Many people with COPD can better their quality of life with guidance, especially when first diagnosed. I can’t enlighten you as to why every patient isn’t referred to pulmonary rehabilitation classes or to a respiratory therapist, but what I can say is if your doctor hasn’t advised you about these options, you need to ask why.
If you’re diagnosed with a progressive disease that has no cure, wouldn’t you’d like to think your doctor would exhaust all options for you? There are many good doctors out there doing great work for their patients, but from my experience some doctors are still hesitant to prescribe education, nutrition and exercise as part of a holistic approach to a COPD management plan.
Instead, they prescribe medication and rest.
Doctors working in conjunction with respiratory therapists should be a major part of how a patient’s disease should be managed. Instead, a patient’s pathway is too often determined by a set of numbers that not always determines a patient’s ability to function as best they can.
I call it being defined by your disease. A patient should always have the option to define how they can deal with their disease.
My first pulmonary function test showed my lung function (fev1) was 22 percent — many would say I was in the category of “it’s too late.” Fast forward five years and structurally my disease hasn’t changed, but if COPD was measured by quality of life then my disease has improved dramatically.
Terms like “end stage COPD” and staging COPD by numbers is outdated and not helpful to a patient, as there is far more to our disease than a stack of numbers. Yes, these numbers are important as an overview of our condition, but surely those numbers can’t determine our destiny.
Single dimension patient treatment is also outdated. With advances in what we know about respiratory disease, as well as the expertise we have in a range of respiratory healthcare professionals, having one person managing a patient should not be acceptable.
What Can a Respiratory Therapist Do?
A respiratory therapist (RT) can be found working in hospitals and private practice specializing in the care of patients with a range of cardiopulmonary diseases.
A good RT can perform a multitude of tasks that can make your quality of life much better. From the initial consultation where they can get a better picture of your disease, to liaising with your doctor on various issues of disease management, an RT can be your guiding light and a source of information.
For the purpose of this discussion I’d like to focus on how we get the most out of our RTs and the importance of this relationship.
Next page: what to expect from respiratory therapy.