Breathing is critical to life, which means keeping airways clear can be highly stressful. If you’re a respiratory therapist, you know how critical every intubation is. Performing vital procedures is a big part of your job, especially in intensive care.
But what happens outside of the hospital walls? Increasingly, care is being delivered in the community. This is especially true for patients with chronic diseases, including chronic obstructive pulmonary decease (COPD). As a result, there are new opportunities for respiratory therapists to work in these environments.
That said, home care comes with its own difficulties. Every specialist who ventures out into the community can expect to encounter a learning curve.
In this post, we’ll look at three major challenges respiratory therapists (RTs) face in home and community care settings. We’ll look specifically at COPD, and explore one potential way of overcoming the obstacles it poses to improved patient outcomes and wellbeing.
Staying abreast of recent developments is crucial in every healthcare field. Respiratory therapy is no exception.
Because breathing apparatus plays a critical role in treating many COPD patients, maintaining up-to-date knowledge of equipment should be a major priority. For practitioners, it’s no easy task.
Respiratory care technology is constantly evolving. Equipment is replaced every year, forcing respiratory therapists to overcome new learning curves on an ongoing basis.
The key, of course, is to maintain the proper balance. Your primary concern should be the patient. But you can’t provide the patient with the highest possible quality of care if your knowledge is outdated.
In home care, keeping up can be especially challenging. There’s no doubt that home oxygen equipment has made life better for many COPD patients (especially those in the late stages of the disease). But using it isn’t exactly second nature to most patients. As a result, respiratory therapists must often teach people who have no healthcare training to use medical equipment.
In short, respiratory therapists who work in patient homes have to understand new technologies inside and out.
The field has come a long way in the last few decades. Recent developments have been nothing short of astonishing. As respiratory therapists move increasingly into home and community care, their knowledge bases will only grow.
Dealing with patient non-compliance
Patients living with chronic diseases want to take good care of themselves. Living at home, they have the opportunity to do just that—while remaining independent.
But self care can be a challenge. And managing COPD in particular requires a lot of dedication.
For ongoing management, respiratory therapists may choose to employ a holistic approach. They can educate patients about important lifestyle changes. They can guide them through pulmonary rehabilitation. And they can show patients how to use at-home equipment and take medications.
Unfortunately, many patients don’t participate consistently,which means they won’t likely see the maximum benefits of all of this effort.
As one example, it’s critical for those with COPD to take inhaled medications as directed—yet non-compliance remains a major issue. Perhaps even more shocking is the fact that nearly half of adults over 40 with breathing difficulties due to asthma or COPD continue to smoke.
For many respiratory therapists, few things are more emotionally difficult than watching a patient decline quickly when self care could slow the progression of her disease.
So why don’t patients comply? There are a whole host of potential reasons. Some may not fully understand or remember instructions. Some may lack the psychosocial support they need to engage in regular self care. Still others may neglect this care because they don’t feel sick.
The fact is, when patients live at home, it’s much easier for them to return to risky lifestyles.
For respiratory therapists, helping those living with COPD to overcome personal barriers is key. Luckily, Canadian initiatives such as INSPIRE—a COPD-focused outreach program—can help. By providing patients with substantial resources and support, such initiatives improve health outcomes.
Check out how much INSPIRE has successfully reduced hospital readmissions here.
Working with other health care providers
As a respiratory therapist, you’re probably used to acting as an educator. Your clinical expertise means you’re constantly providing new knowledge to other healthcare professionals.
When it comes to helping individual COPD patients, your contributions are extremely important. This is especially true during pulmonary rehabilitation, when physicians and nurses need to understand the ongoing and future impacts of the disease.
Another way you can make a huge difference during recovery is by acting as part of a strong circle of care. Ideally, every patient should have a supportive network of medical practitioners, professional caregivers, and family members around them.
That said, whether family support is available or not, the healthcare system should be. You as a respiratory therapist owe it to your patients to provide—and stay abreast of—all relevant personal health information. For this reason, it’s crucial to maintain contact with other circle of care members.
An ongoing relationship with your patient’s primary care physician will help you better understand her overall health at any given time. And having up-to-date developments from the whole team—from the therapist to the pharmacist to home care nurses—will ensure that the care you provide won’t have any unintended consequences.
Of course, working with healthcare providers in other areas of specialization is always a challenge. But in community care, it can be especially difficult. Team members are often spread out geographically. If you’re visiting a COPD patient at home, it may be difficult to reach the last nurse who visited her if you have a question.
For this reason, it’s especially important to know the members of a home care patient’s circle of care—and how to reach them.
A difficult & rewarding job
If you’re a respiratory therapist, you know all too well the pain and fear that COPD can cause. Your work is far from easy. And unfortunately, performing it in the community comes with additional challenges.
That said, there are major benefits to caring for patients where they’re most comfortable. By using technology to overcome major challenges, you can provide the highest-quality respiratory home care possible. A communication app developed specifically for the healthcare context can offer support.
The right solution will be incredibly easy to use, so you can connect with patients easily to educate them via video. You can also ask nurses to perform video check-in sessions to ensure support and boost compliance. Sharing health information and viewing updated care plans and medical records will also be secure and simple with the right solution.
Apps like aTouchAway are the future of home care. As respiratory therapists move increasingly into the homes of patients, they should consider the benefits of this type of technology.