Healthcare Team Who Treats COPD

Treating chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can involve an entire team of healthcare providers. Each member of the team has a unique and important role in helping a person with COPD manage the disease.1,2

A person's COPD treatment team may include:1,2

  • Primary care physician
  • Pulmonologist
  • Respiratory therapist
  • Dietician or nutritionist
  • Therapist or counselor
  • Palliative care specialist

Primary care physician

A primary care physician is the doctor responsible for much of the initial care with COPD. They are also usually the doctor that is responsible for the initial diagnosis of COPD. It is estimated that about 80 percent of care for people with COPD is performed by their primary care doctor.3

In some cases, a primary care doctor will treat the COPD themselves. A primary care doctor can perform physical exams and prescribe medicines or supplemental oxygen, which can be sufficient for some COPD cases.3

For other people with COPD, a larger care team may be a better choice. In this case, your primary care doctor may recommend seeing other specialists after a COPD diagnosis. If you need to find a specialist, you can ask your primary care doctor for recommendations. It is also a good idea to verify that the specialist you choose is covered by your insurance.1,3

Pulmonologist

A pulmonologist is a specialist who focuses on the respiratory system, which contains everything from your windpipe to your lungs. Not everyone with COPD will need to see a pulmonologist, but you and your primary care doctor can decide if it is a good choice for you.4

A pulmonologist may create an in-depth treatment plan for your COPD to best manage your symptoms. This could include:1,2

  • Medicines to help you breathe better
  • Supplemental oxygen, or oxygen therapy
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation, a special program for learning to manage COPD
  • Quitting smoking
  • Improving your diet
  • Starting an exercise routine
  • Emotional support

Respiratory therapist

A respiratory therapist works with people who have trouble breathing. They can have many different roles, but their job can include:5

  • Giving breathing tests
  • Teaching different breathing techniques.
  • Teaching how to use supplemental oxygen

A respiratory therapist may be a key figure in a pulmonary rehabilitation program. Pulmonary rehabilitation is a special program designed to teach people with COPD how to best manage their condition through education and exercise.5

Dietitian or nutritionist

Your diet can have a big impact on your breathing. Also, many people living with COPD have trouble maintaining a healthy body weight. Some people do not weigh enough, while others are overweight. Having a healthy body weight is an important part of managing COPD.6

The job of dietitians and nutritionists on the COPD treatment team is to help you eat a healthy diet. They can provide advice about designing a diet that provides the right amount of nutrition and energy specific to your needs.6

Therapist or counselor

Living with COPD can be stressful and can lead to depression and anxiety. Mental health problems are common in people with COPD. A therapist or counselor can help you manage the mental health problems you might face. They may provide family or individual therapy. They can also help you find support groups for people with COPD.7

Palliative care specialist

Palliative care is sometimes called support care. The goal of palliative care is to help you live the best life possible with COPD. A palliative care team listens to your needs and expectations. Then, they work with your primary care doctor or pulmonologist to determine the best way to meet them. In palliative care, the focus is on what you want rather than disease progression alone.7

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Written by: Juliette Daily │ Last reviewed: October 2021