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 COPD patient manage the disease.
Who are the healthcare providers on a COPD treatment team?
A patient’s COPD treatment team includes:
- Primary care physician
- Respiratory therapist
- Exercise specialist
- Therapist or counselor
What does the primary care physician do?1,2
A person’s primary care physician is a very important member of the COPD treatment team. He or she usually provides most of a patient’s COPD care during the early stages of the disease.
In most cases, the primary care physician is the one who actually diagnoses COPD in a patient. This is done using the following tests:
- Breathing tests to see how well a person’s lungs are working
- Chest X-rays, or other types of scanning to look for symptoms of COPD
- Measuring the levels of oxygen in a person’s blood
If the primary care physician diagnoses a person with COPD, the next step is to put together a healthcare team to design a personal COPD treatment plan. The goal of this plan is to help manage the symptoms of COPD in the best way possible.
What does the pulmonologist do?1
A pulmonologist is a doctor who has special skills to treat people with lung diseases. Sometimes pulmonologists are not needed until a person’s COPD has progressed to a later stage, but this decision can be made between the COPD patient and the primary care physician.
The pulmonologist can carry out special tests to get more information about a person’s COPD and suggest the best treatment for the symptoms.
What is a COPD treatment plan?1
The personal COPD treatment plan can include:
- Medications to help the patient breathe better
- Oxygen therapy
- Pulmonary rehabilitation
- Lifestyle changes, such as:
What does the respiratory therapist do?3
A respiratory therapist is another key member of the COPD treatment team. Respiratory therapists help to teach the patient about COPD. Patients need to know how COPD affects the lungs and the rest of the body. Respiratory therapists also provide support and guidance about many other parts of the COPD treatment plan, including:
- Understanding COPD medications and how to take them correctly
- Giving advice and support about how to quit smoking for good
- How to avoid infections
- How to use oxygen therapy safely
- Advice about how to improve breathing
- How to deal with COPD attacks (also called “exacerbations”)
What role does the dietician/nutritionist play?2
Many people living with COPD have trouble maintaining a healthy body weight. Some people are don’t weigh enough, while others are overweight. Having a healthy body weight is an important part of managing COPD.
The job of dieticians and nutritionists on the COPD treatment team is to help the patient eat a healthy diet. They can provide advice about designing a diet that provides the right amount of nutrition and energy for the patient.
What role does the exercise specialist play?2
The exercise specialist can help a patient start an exercise regimen. Regular exercise is very important for maintaining a healthy body weight. Exercise can also help manage the symptoms of COPD and help the patient have a better quality of life.
How does the therapist or counselor help treat COPD?1
Having depression or anxiety is very common for people with COPD. Living with COPD can be very stressful, and can make a person feel sad or afraid. Therapists and counselors can help those patients treat and manage the symptoms of their anxiety or depression. This might include:
- Individual or family therapy
- Helping with finding or setting up a support group for people living with COPD
Some COPD patients with anxiety or depression might need medicine to help treat those conditions. In those cases, the therapist or counselor can refer them to a doctor who is able to prescribe those kinds of medicines.