By Dr. Sairam Parthasarathy, professor of medicine and interim chief of Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine with University of Arizona College of Medicine
A growing challenge for the healthcare industry, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. and the projected third leading cause of death worldwide by 2030[1,2]. COPD remains one of the most commonly misdiagnosed and underdiagnosed diseases, with an additional 12 million Americans predicted to have the disease without even knowing it. Even though the numbers of morbidity and mortality associated with COPD continue to rise, there is a lack of general awareness globally and a social stigma linked to the disease.
November is COPD Awareness Month. It’s a yearly reminder that we as healthcare professionals must do a better job educating people who think they may have COPD as well as diagnosed patients and their caregivers about the importance of early diagnosis and the available treatment options to greatly improve patients’ lives.
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With millions of people already diagnosed with COPD, there are millions more that remain undiagnosed or misdiagnosed with a lung condition that has similar symptoms. COPD symptoms include shortness of breath, chronic cough, body fatigue and chest tightness that often develop slowly and subtly. People with these symptoms often don’t pay close attention or seek medical care because they associate these signs with the normal aging process.
However, it is critical for people with these symptoms, especially if they are a current or past smoker, to be evaluated for COPD. Lung screenings like a spirometry assessment can identify COPD before a major loss of lung function occurs. With precise diagnosis, COPD patients have better control over their condition and have the ability to understand their therapy options early, finding the right therapy option for them that will enable patients live a better life.
Live a fulfilled live with COPD
Education and an understanding of the stages of COPD progression and the available therapy options are vital to improving the quality of life for COPD patients. While there is no cure for COPD, managing symptoms proactively, visiting the doctor regularly and adhering to therapy can help patients maintain a better quality of life for as long as possible.
COPD is a chronic condition, but it doesn’t have to debilitate your life. For recently diagnosed and existing COPD patients, here is some advice for living well:
- Stop smoking: While it may be difficult, it is critical to stop smoking. Ask your doctor about local smoking cessation programs.
- Educate yourself: Understand what it means to have COPD. Visit your doctor and create an action plan to help track your progress.
- Find the treatment options that work best for you: While there is no cure for COPD, there are many treatment options including prescription drugs, positive airway pressure (PAP) therapy, portable oxygen concentrators, and ventilation therapy that can help you maintain a better quality of life. By researching and having a strong understanding of the treatment options available, patients can have a more educated conversation with physicians about care management programs and connected care technology.
- Exercise: Exercise can help improve cardio-respiratory fitness level by strengthening large muscle groups within your body while also improving circulation and lung function.
Understand the treatment options
Finding the right therapy continues to be a challenge for COPD patients. Despite the healthcare industry moving forward with innovative technology, we frequently see that patients and caregivers are unaware of the treatment options available. Technology like positive airway pressure (PAP) therapy is underutilized when related to COPD treatment, even though this solution is available within health professionals’ toolbox that can keep patients out of the hospital. In a recent Philips-sponsored study, the findings that 92 percent of U.S. COPD patients studied did not receive PAP therapy, despite the benefits.
PAP therapy, specifically NIV therapy, is one of the most effective therapies for COPD patients. A modality to reduce blood CO2 levels in COPD patients, NIV therapy is not invasive, tailoring ventilation pressure to match the patient’s breathing patterns in order to maximize oxygen, while also allowing for patients to receive the best treatment options at home.
In addition to PAP therapy, other treatment options are nebulizers, a compressor designed to provide fast and efficient aerosol drug delivery with shorter treatment times, and oxygen therapy, with options of long-term therapy or portable oxygen concentrators that provide patients’ with the freedom and flexibility to live a full and active life.
Connecting technology and comprehensive care
Everyone in the COPD care community wants to ensure a successful discharge of the COPD patient. However, care is fragmented. We simply don’t know what we don’t know. We need ongoing visibility to post-acute patient care & tools that help empower the patient and providers for consistent care management to reduce hospitalizations and, ultimately, costs. COPD is a reason for substantial increases in healthcare costs, mainly due to the result of inpatient admissions, making it an economic burden with associated costs estimated to be $50 billion by 2020.
It’s important for care providers (physicians, DMEs and caregivers alike) to find and apply a depth of perspective across hospital and home to connect people, technology and data to uncover actionable insights informing effective care pathways. By uniting the care community as one with collaborative tools and services, comprehensive patient data and connected monitoring platforms care providers can help to advance COPD care with seamless workflows and proven clinical care pathways that prevent events before they occur. As the industry shifts toward a value-based care model, healthcare professionals should seek out seamless, patient-centered care through connected care technologies and proven, multifaceted treatment options to find ways to both improve patient care and work to lower costs associated with that care.
Greater awareness around the available treatment options will not only be beneficial to healthcare professionals and health systems but also to patients, having a greater chance of staying out of the hospital and improving their everyday quality of life.
Join in on the conversation
In an effort to break these barriers, I encourage all to participate in Philips’ social donation program, where Philips has committed to donating $1 to The COPD Foundation for every campaign video share in November – COPD Awareness Month. By donating up to $25,000 to The COPD Foundation, Philips will help extend the organization’s ability to educate, engage and empower patients, providers and physicians across the globe.
1 American Lung Association
2 World Health Organization
4 Murphy DO, T. (2016). “Is Variation on Following the GOLD Guidelines Provider Dependent?” Published. http://journal.publications.chestnet.org/article.aspx?articleid=2568785&resultClick=1