Guiding COPD Patients from Diagnosis to Treatment

Guiding COPD Patients from Diagnosis to Treatment

Helping patients to navigate what comes after a difficult diagnosis is a necessary part of our profession. In my many years working with patients facing progressive diseases, like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), I have found that they often have questions, namely:

What do I do now?

That’s where we, as nurses and other health care providers, can offer answers. COPD is not currently curable; however, there is still hope for these patients. Lifestyle changes and medical advancements make it possible for patients to improve their ability to breathe and overall quality of life. The objective of treatment is to slow the progression of the disease and assist with managing its symptoms. As patients with COPD come to terms with their disease, here’s what I would recommend to guide them through the next steps of their journey, from diagnosis to treatment:

Work With Them to Create a Plan

After giving a diagnosis of COPD, educating patients on the disease and working with them on a personalized plan to start addressing their symptoms is an important first step. In fact, there are many lifestyle changes that patients can make every day to not only accommodate their new medical needs but also to help improve lung function. Committing to a diet of anti-inflammatory foods — like fatty fish or dark leafy greens — participating in regular low-impact physical activities and other techniques can help to reduce inflammation in the lungs that can exacerbate symptoms.

Help Them Take the Steps to Quit Smoking

Smoking can cause significant damage in the lungs which only increases over time. One of the best things that patients can do if they’ve been diagnosed with chronic lung disease is to quit smoking if they currently smoke. It’s important to arm them with information and tools they need to successfully do so — whether it’s helping them to identify smoking triggers, create an exercise and diet regimen or connect to support groups or other resources. For example, at Lung Health Institute, we offer our patients access to programs like American Lung Association’s Freedom From Smoking® Plus, a flexible online smoking cessation program that can be completed in six weeks.

Have an Honest Conversation About What Treatment Is Right for Them

Every patient is different, and treatments will vary for each patient with COPD — depending on the severity of the disease and other factors, including age, fitness level or medical history. That’s why it’s critical to create an environment where patients are comfortable being completely honest about how they’re feeling both physically and mentally. That will ensure that we can provide them with the best course of action when it comes to their treatment.

Melissa Rubio, Ph.D., APRN, is a nurse practitioner and principal investigator for research at the Lung Health Institute, based at its Dallas clinic. Rubio also currently serves as a visiting professor at DeVry University’s Chamberlain College of Nursing in Downers Grove, Illinois. Prior to joining Lung Health Institute, Rubio worked at Pleasant Ridge Internal Medicine in Arlington, Texas, as a family nurse practitioner. Rubio holds a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee College of Nursing. She also earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the same school. She is a board-certified family nurse practitioner and a certified principal investigator. Rubio is also a member of the North Texas Nurse Practitioners and the Southern Nursing Research Society.

5 Things Every Nurse Should Know About Health Literacy

5 Things Every Nurse Should Know About Health Literacy

Nursing, as defined by the World Health Organization, encompasses care for people of all ages, families, groups, and communities, sick or well and in all types of settings. Nursing includes health promotion, illness prevention, and care of the ill. Regardless of your nursing role, or type of patient population you care for, health literacy is an essential competence necessary to effectively communicate and truly provide person-centered care. Health literacy is a precursor to health and considered a social determinant of health due to its influence upon health outcomes. It also includes engaging and empowering patients to access services and act upon health information to make informed decisions.

Early definitions of health literacy primarily focused on the skills or deficits of individuals when obtaining, processing, or understanding basic health information and services. The term has continued to evolve to reflect the complex, dynamic, multidimensional context-related components of health literacy. And while nurses have such a vital role in the promotion of health literacy, there is often a lack of understanding that health literacy is much more than the reading level of patient education material.

Nurses have a vital role in partnering with the 88% of the U.S. population that are not having their health care needs met.  Nurses can make a difference beginning today!

Begin by checking out the 5 basic health literacy strategies every nurse should know.

1. Promote a shame-free environment.

Health literacy is the foundation to a successful nurse-patient interaction and necessary to promote patient safety. Writing all patient forms in plain language, providing assistance with paperwork, offering free interpretation services, and involving members of your community when designing materials or programs will assist with promoting a shame-free environment.

2. Use a health literacy universal precautions approach.

Always assume that everyone might experience difficulty understanding health information or navigating the complex health care environment.  Even a well educated patient can have difficulty understanding the medical information provided.

3. Speak in plain language.

Plain language or “living room language” is beneficial for everyone! Using “everyday” words rather than medical jargon will allow you to meet your patients where they are and help clearly explain more involved concepts.

4. Confirm understanding with Teach-Back.

Respectfully ask patients to explain a concept or direction back to you. This helps ensure you were clear in all patient communications. It also gives you the opportunity to clarify any misunderstanding if needed. Teach-Back is not mimicking what you said—patients should use their own words to explain understanding.

5. Ask open-ended questions.

For example, “What are your questions?”, “What questions do you still have?, or possibly, “We just reviewed a lot of information. What parts would you like me to go over with you again?”   Each of these examples can help encourage questions rather than “do you have any questions?, which often results in a quick response of “no”.

Learn more about health literacy and health literacy strategies in this award winning book, Health Literacy in Nursing: Providing Person-Centered Care. For additional resources or to request health literacy services, contact Health Literacy Partners.

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