5 Steps to Living Longer and Healthier With COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) affects upwards of 16 million Americans and approximately 3 million Canadians. Patients with COPD typically have airway inflammation or obstructions that can make breathing difficult and often experience periods of exacerbated symptoms. If treated and managed correctly, COPD can become easier to live with, and worsening symptoms can be avoided or reduced.

Periods of worsening symptoms of COPD are referred to as “flare-ups”. During a flare-up, patients can experience symptoms of breathlessness, excessive coughing, and wheezing. If left unaddressed, it is common for these symptoms to intensify and can ultimately result in patients being hospitalized.

In this blog, we will cover some of the most important steps patients can take to prevent worsening symptoms, avoid flare-ups, slow the progression of the disease, and improve their overall quality of life.

Steps Patients With COPD Should Take

Living with COPD has its obstacles. However, it is possible for patients to live and maintain a happy, healthy life with the correct treatment and management. As every individual with COPD has different symptoms and experiences, it is important that the ways each patient goes about keeping their symptoms under control are specific to their needs. By following these steps, patients can ensure they take the necessary measures to improve their health outcomes while living with COPD.

Step 1: Discuss Treatment Options With Your Healthcare Provider

To ensure the best treatment, your healthcare provider will need to assess and diagnose your condition. This can be done through a lung pulmonary function test, chest x-ray, CT scan, or other methods. As COPD represents a spectrum of diseases, the severity of one patient’s illness may require medications, inhalers, or lung therapies. In contrast, others may require simple lifestyle changes or abstinence from tobacco products.

By assessing the severity of your condition and discussing the various treatment options available, you can be more confident that the measures you are taking to manage your condition are effective. Furthermore, your healthcare provider may recommend or prescribe alternative treatment options should the initial ones they prescribed or recommend are unsuccessful.

Step 2: Create a Plan You Can Follow To Track Your Progress and Manage Symptoms

When it comes to effectively treating and managing COPD, one of the most important things you can do as a patient is tracking your progress and symptoms to detect early warning signs and make adjustments to your regime to avoid flare-ups. This can be done through traditional methods such as journaling, where you can note down noticeable changes and keep a log of your daily or weekly progress.

Many patients manage and track their progress in a more integrated fashion through virtual care platforms. On platforms such as aTouchAway, you can input your symptoms through your computer or mobile device and instantly notify your healthcare provider or other members of your care circle if symptoms change or become severe. Here, you can also access educational resources with steps you can take to mitigate symptoms.

Step 3: Surround Yourself With Members of Your Support System

Living with COPD presents a number of challenges that can be taxing on your mental health. Many patients experience periods of stress when their symptoms become worse or are difficult to manage. Unfortunately for some, the difficulties of living with this disease can lead to anxiety and depression.

By continuously keeping in touch with loved ones, healthcare providers, or support groups for individuals going through similar experiences, you can have the support you need to tackle everyday challenges and reduce the likelihood of developing mental health issues.

Step 4: Make Healthier Lifestyle Changes

Although there is no cure for COPD, making healthier lifestyle changes can drastically improve your quality of life and reduce the everyday challenges that come with the disease. If you are a smoker, one of the best things you can do for your COPD is quit smoking. The CDC reports that smoking accounts for approximately 8 out of 10 COPD-related deaths. Although smoking is not the only cause of COPD, it is directly correlated to the majority of cases, and if continued, can have devastating effects on your health.

Some additional lifestyle changes that you can make if you are not a smoker or have already quit are increasing your level of physical activity, avoiding unhealthy foods, reducing your risk of infections by maintaining good hygiene and staying up to date on vaccines, taking your prescribed medication or treatment regularly, and getting ample rest.

Step 5: Learn Self-Management Techniques

COPD self-management techniques go hand in hand with making healthier lifestyle choices when it comes to improving health outcomes. By learning the correct methods for your condition, you can learn to overcome regular obstacles and improve your outlook on the future.

A commonly used self-management technique for COPD is practicing breathing exercises. These can be used to reduce feelings of breathlessness, clear sputum from the airways, and help you achieve a better overall breathing capacity when symptoms are present. Some other self-management techniques that can be used include taking your prescribed medication regularly, following an exercise routine, and learning practical coping skills.

Long-Term Outcomes of Effective COPD Management

As you adjust to living with COPD and settle into a routine of taking the necessary steps to manage your illness, things will inevitably become easier. Additionally, the continuous advancements in COPD treatment are helping improve the lives of everyone affected by this disease.

By getting the right treatment, creating an action plan, having the support you need, and adopting healthier lifestyle habits, you will be able to ensure you are on the right track to improving your condition and be able to live a longer, healthier life.

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COPD Education – Onboarding

Objective

To complete a thorough needs assessment / initial evaluation for a COPD patient of an outpatient clinic

Actors
Patient, Educator (Nurse, RT, the Physician could also be the educator)

Timelines
One 60-90 min session with the Educator

Description
  • This protocol should be established for all COPD patients from a given clinic, independently of whether they are new patients or they are known to the clinic. This protocol is the basis to engage the patient into other protocols such as education, exacerbation follow-up, etc.
  • We need to identify patient goals/concerns to guide the interventions
  • A thorough evaluation is carried on, with the objective of understanding where the patient is on their disease journey and follow-up treatable traits: dyspnea, exacerbation or dyspnea and exacerbation.
  • It includes the use of objective questionnaires such as the mMRC, CAT, HADS, Frailty Scale, etc.
  • Identify if the patient needs to be referred to other resources (e.g. Physiotherapist, social worker, occupational therapist)
  • Once Onboarding is completed, the patient continues to the COPD Education workflow
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COPD Education – Continuous Maintenance

Objective 

To cover in depth all the necessary elements of self-management education as per the LWWCOPD, with priorities based on patient goals and identified treatable traits

Actors
Patient, Educator (Nurse, RT or Physician)

Timelines
A number of “Core” educational modules have been identified which cover the basic COPD education from the LWWCOPD program. Additionally, optional modules can be used to respond to patient needs. The timeline (frequency, number of modules to be covered at a given education session) is fully customizable, although we recommend to have education sessions every 2-weeks during the “active” phase of education. Once this is completed, the patient continues to the Maintenance Mode (see below).

Description
  • Launched at the onboarding protocol
  • Provide basic overview of COPD self-management based on LWWCOPD (medication adherence, inhaler techniques, PLB technique & energy conservation) up to the development of an Action plan for early exacerbation recognition and management.
  • Prioritize self-learning by the patient (e.g. watching videos, reading educational materials, completing homework) in addition to live sessions with the Educator. Educational materials are sent to the patient directly via the platform, and become the patient’s own library. The Educator can customize which “homework” the patient receives.
  • Educators have access to “User guides” to standardise their educational intervention. These user guides include: objectives, interventions, suggested questions, evaluation of self-efficacy, and learning contracts for each module.
  • Once the core education is completed, the patient can continue to the Respiratory Status Follow-up Workflow (run in parallel)

The Maintenance Mode
  • As soon as the maintenance mode is engaged, the frequency of visits Educator/Patient is reduced to once every 6 months.
  • During the Maintenance Mode sessions, the educator has access to all the education modules and can choose any piece of content that needs to covered with the patient. 
  • A streamlined evaluation (similar to the initial eval.) is done during each “maintenance” visit to identify any substantial changes on the patient’s needs that will require some adjustment. The patient could come back to an “active” education mode (more frequent education sessions, e.g. every 2 weeks).
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COPD Respiratory Status Follow-up

Objective

Monitoring of stable patients from a clinic in order to identify early any aggravation of symptoms (exacerbation) and implement an action plan

Actors
Patient, Educator (Nurse, RT or Physician)

Timelines
Scheduled regular automated follow-up to the patient symptoms. Intensity/Frequency can be adjusted by the Educator depending on patient needs (e.g. daily, every week, etc.). Ongoing through the year.

Description
  • Launch: Patients who have completed the Core Educational including setting-up an action plan.
  • Regular automated questions allow to identify any change in patient’s symptoms and severity.
  • If an exacerbation is detected the patient gets a reminder to engage their self-management strategies while waiting for the Educator to call back.
  • An alarm is generated for the Educator, so they immediately call back the patient. At this call they will evaluate any further intervention required and schedule additional follow-up.
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