Educating the Complex Medical Needs Patient

image of medical professional meeting with patient

Respiratory therapists engage in patient education at the bedside on a daily basis – indeed, anytime you answer a patient’s question or instruct him or her in proper inhaler technique, you are providing education.

But some patients – and their families – require more in-depth education than can be provided informally at the bedside, and nowhere is that more true than for those going home on mechanical ventilation.

For John Cahill, RRT, it’s a full-time job. He provides this level of education through his role as a respiratory transition specialist for Independence Plus, Inc., out of Oak Brook, IL. The company prides itself on delivering the best home care possible for people with complex medical and respiratory needs.

Comprehensive training

“I’m involved in doing education with family and caregivers for complex respiratory patients that are going to be discharged to home on ventilators,” Cahill said. “After assessing how much correct knowledge they have picked up while the patient has been in facilities, I teach them on all aspects of the patient’s respiratory care.”

He works with his ventilator-dependent patients and their caregivers on everything from oral care and trach function/care to ventilator theory and ventilator operation. He also educates them on how to troubleshoot problems and which clinical issues to watch out for, and he provides them with daily care lists, emergency procedures, and printed personalized handouts for their reference.

“I spend many hours with each caregiver on theory training and hands-on care with return demonstration,” Cahill said.

Grateful patients

The patients and families he works with are grateful for the instruction he provides. Cahill says after training is completed, they will often tell him they didn’t think they could handle the patient care involved, but with his help they slowly but surely gained the confidence they would need to do the job.

“I have had many patients that have been trached for some time, and after family training I have had many families tell me they now understand the function of the trach,” Cahill said. “Before training they only had a vague idea of how the tracheostomy tube worked and/or why it had a cuff.”

Many times, these informal caregivers have observed their loved ones receiving care at numerous hospitals, long-term acute care facilities, and skilled nursing facilities, and they have witnessed care that was very good and some that was not so good.

“As they have learned more and more through home care vent training, they get to the point where they recognize improper care and can correct it while the patient is still in the facility,” he said. “Once home, the patient receives care that has been individualized to him or her and will result in astounding outcomes.”

RTs are right for the job

Cahill firmly believes family caregivers need and deserve this level of training.

“We can keep patients healthier and at home longer if their caregivers are properly trained and have the correct tools to do the care,” he said.

The job may not be for everyone, but for him, it’s a great way to use his RT skills to help the most vulnerable patients we treat.

“Experienced RTs know the details that will make the difference at home,” Cahill said.

Want to learn more about educating patients and caregivers?

Register for the Pulmonary Disease Educator course today.