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Education Is Key With COPD

I am a COPD educator. If you get admitted to my hospital, chances are you’ll meet me or you’ll meet another respiratory therapist who will educate you. We at least give you the choice. You can certainly refuse education too.

Diagnosis can be tough

Sure, it can be very tough living with COPD. Most people have lived productive lives long before getting diagnosed. They developed habits they expected they’d be able to do the rest of their lives, only to be diagnosed with this darn disease called COPD. And then they are told they have to make “lifestyle changes.”

A neat thing, though, is the progression of COPD can be slowed. People are living longer and better than ever before despite their diagnosis. One key to living long and well with COPD is being diagnosed early. Another key is learning as much about this disease as soon as you are able. The better educated you are, the better equipped you are to cope and cope well.

Who should do the educating?

So, who should be teaching you? Therein lies the question. Many doctors are great educators. I have had doctors draw diagrams so I could see what was going on inside my body, and what they were going to do to fix it. This gave me something to see, and I could actually visualize what was going on. This helped with the learning process.

But, some doctors (even some of the greatest doctors) are poor educators. This is no knock on them, it’s just how it is for some of us. Also, doctors are busy. They have many patients to see. Time in each appointment is limited so this often makes it difficult for doctors to give adequate education.

Nurses could do it, but nurses are busy too. There's also self-education. I know that I'm guilty of asking Dr. Google about diseases I have. But what we learn from Dr. Google can also be limited. Plus, Dr. Google cannot see you and so cannot tailor what is being taught specifically to you, the patient.

Respiratory therapists could do it

Respiratory therapists like me could do it. After all, we are the lung experts. We work with people living with COPD every day. I know the majority of my patients are people living with COPD and we do try to educate every person we see about their disease.

But this is also limiting. You see, CMS does not recognize my profession the same way it does for doctors and nurses. This makes it so the services we provide are not funded outside the hospital setting, so we can only help people when they are in the hospital.

Sure, it’s great that I get the opportunity to educate people living with COPD, but it is my opinion that people should be educated about COPD before they get bad enough to need my services. So, I think it would be neat if there was a program set up specifically to educate people who are newly diagnosed with COPD, or anyone living with COPD.

What's the solution?

I think that pulmonary rehabilitation is a good solution. People who go to this learn about the importance of staying active. They learn some exercises that work great for COPD, and how best to do them. They also are educated about their disease which is great. There have been many studies verifying the benefits of pulmonary rehab.

Still, not everyone with COPD has access to pulmonary rehab. Likewise, these programs are only offered for a certain length of time. Something more should be available to people living with COPD and I think the solution may be better access to respiratory therapists like myself.

The Breath Act

There is a bill currently in Washington D.C. that has been introduced in Congress. The bill is HR 2508. This is a bill called the Breath Act. It would create a pilot program that would allow respiratory therapists to communicate with people living with COPD via telehealth. The goal would be to educate. I think this would be a great opportunity.

We would be able to educate people living COPD from afar. We’d be able to watch you use your inhalers to assure you are using proper inhaler technique. We’d be able to advise and assist you in your efforts to make the lifestyle changes necessary to best cope with COPD - all done from the comfort of your home. So, this is something that is in the “pipeline” so to speak. This is one bill I certainly hope makes it’s way to the President’s desk.

Granted, there is still a lot about our disease that even eludes researchers. Still, there is good evidence showing that better COPD outcomes begin with a good COPD education. What do you think?

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