Overcoming the challenges posed by a chronic lung disease like COPD takes more than just medication and lifestyle changes, or even pulmonary rehabilitation. Patients need ongoing support, and one of the best places for them to find it is in a Better Breathers Club.
Respiratory therapists who lend their time and talents to these clubs will tell you they do wonders for the clinicians who get involved as well.
A great need
Christiana Care in Newark, DE, has been hosting a Better Breathers Club for years now, but in January of 2018 two respiratory therapists took over the operation and they couldn’t be happier with their decision to step up for the patients who attend.
“When hearing about the opportunity to get involved in Better Breathers Club I jumped at the chance,” said Beth Austin, RRT, RRT-ACCS. “I see a need every day, with my work in the hospital, for pulmonary patients to get more support outside of the hospital with things like education and exposure to people with diseases similar to theirs. I was excited to be able to help provide them with this.”
Lisa Racine, RRT, was eager to participate in the club as well.
“It brings together a group with similar symptoms,” she said. “It is rewarding to help educate our members.”
She has been especially gratified by the chance the club has given her to ease the frustrations club members have had with the health care system, and loves being able to provide them with resources that they previously didn’t even know existed.
Creating a community
These therapists emphasize their club is focused not only on providing education, but also a community for patients where they can feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and concerns.
“Club members are able to discuss real life experiences with each other and find common ground with people who understand their situation,” Austin said. “They get the feeling of not being alone and I think that goes a long way in emotional wellbeing.”
Racine says the social aspects are critical in helping patients cope with their condition and they often provide each other with valuable advice about managing aspects of the disease.
“The members get to share with the others during the session,” she said. “It can be anything from a piece of equipment they find useful or personal experiences of other members.”
She recalls one patient, for example, who found a cart to help transport his oxygen and ended up sharing his find with the group.
“We always provide an educational topic but leave time for the club members to interact with the speaker or each other at the end,” Racine said.
The whole story
It all adds up to greater insight into the lives of COPD patients for the RTs as well.
“In the hospital we help patients get over their acute illness and do our best to prepare them to manage their diseases, but then do not get to see them after discharge,” Austin said. “The Better Breathers Club gives us the opportunity to continue the discussion with patients.”
Racine says the club has opened her eyes to the physical and emotional struggles COPD patients face every day and given her a greater understanding of the patients she sees on the inpatient side.
“Things aren’t always as cut and dried as they seem,” she said. “We often hear in our report about our patient’s poor compliance. Sometimes there is more to the story. It could be a poor understanding with a lack of education.”
Her experience with the Better Breathers Club has taught her to reserve her judgement until she really knows where the patient’s coming from.
Both therapists give Better Breathers Club participation high marks and believe their fellow RTs should give it a try too.
“I would recommend all therapists get involved in their local Better Breathers Club by either becoming a facilitator or speaking to its members,” Austin said. “Seeing patients when they are ‘healthy’ and being able to make a difference in their care is something you can’t do in the inpatient setting.”
Racine said, “It is rewarding to see our members in an outpatient setting when they are well. They are so appreciative of the efforts of the Better Breathers Club. We now look forward to seeing our members each month to hear how they are doing and what we can do to help.”