Contact: Kelli Hagen
Respiratory Therapists Aid Early Detection of COPD:
National RC Week Focuses on Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease in October
Dallas, TX (July 24, 2000) -- Respiratory therapists (RTs) across the United States will celebrate National Respiratory Care Week (RC Week) Sept. 10-16 by promoting early detection of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) through routine lung function testing. According to the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC), this year's focus on regular COPD screening is long overdue.
"There are as many as 15 million people in the United States with undiagnosed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease," says AARC Executive Director Sam Giordano. "What's more, the majority of these people will have been robbed of 20-40% of their lung function before they show any signs of the illness, like shortness of breath," he says.
COPD encompasses a group of lung disorders including chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and asthmatic bronchitis, says Giordano, each characterized by narrowing of the airways (bronchi) and loss of the lungs' elasticity. This airway narrowing, most often caused by smoking, develops slowly, brought on by decades of tobacco use. COPD costs Americans about $17 billion per year in medical costs, hospitalizations, and physician visits and is the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S.
While these numbers are alarming, respiratory therapists routinely perform a type of lung function screeening that can identify early onset of COPD. Spirometry testing is used daily in doctor's offices across the country to help determine the severity of asthmatics' conditions, but thus far the test is rarely used to detect COPD.
Dr. Thomas Petty, chairman of the National Lung Health Education Program (NLHEP), also champions using spirometry testing in routine check-ups, especially on smokers 45 or older, who are most at risk for developing lung disease. In fact, the NLHEP has authored a spirometry statement (published in April '00 Chest and May '00 Respiratory Care Journal) that calls for all primary care practitioners to have spirometers in their offices. "The ultimate goal of the program is to make spirometry as common in the physician's office as the blood pressure cuff is today," says Petty.
Louise Nett, RN, RRT, FAARC, research associate for the NLHEP, holds that respiratory therapists are the ideal medical professionals to educate the primary care physicians they work with in hospitals about the benefits of making spirometry a part of routine check-ups for their patients. "I'd like to see every respiratory therapy department in the country get interested in early detection and start working on a small scale within their hospitals with their primary care doctors to have educational days for them on spirometry and smoking cessation," she says.
This is exactly what the AARC's 50 state affiliate organizations, about 32,000 members strong, will be doing during the week of September 10. They will also be offering spirometry screenings in malls and shopping centers as well as in their hospitals and other healthcare facilities. RTs will host a variety of other events as well: walk-a-thons, "respiratory-health" fairs, tree-planting ceremonies, and open houses will be among the activities used to promote awareness of the respiratory therapist's vital role in the early detection of COPD as well as the importance of good respiratory health practices.
Helping the medical community and the public understand why respiratory therapists are so important has been an ongoing goal for AARC members. Their efforts have been bolstered by support from several physicians' groups. The American College of Chest Physicians has said that "because RTs have specialized training and experience, they play a vital role in the coordination and utilization of respiratory care services."
The AARC is a professional membership association for respiratory therapists. Respiratory therapists work under the direction of a physician and assist in the diagnosis, treatment and management of patients with pulmonary disorders. The AARC provides educational programs to the respiratory care community and promotes the art and science of respiratory care to healthcare consumers and other healthcare professionals.