5 Approaches to Help Improve Patients' Respiratory Health
Improving your patients’ respiratory health should be top of mind for both patient comfort and better medical outcomes. Here are five approaches that respiratory therapists can use to potentially improve patients’ respiratory health and quality of life.
- Provide patient education. At the heart of good patient care is teaching respiratory patients educational protocols to improve their respiratory health. For example, incentive spirometry is an exercise designed to help patients take long, deep breaths using an incentive spirometer to gauge how well the lungs expand. Because it requires deep breaths, it may improve a patient’s ability to clear mucus from the lungs. It may also increase the amount of oxygen that gets deeper into the lungs. Teaching patients the risk factors associated with their specific respiratory condition is also essential to good patient care.
- Offer nutritional support. Patients in respiratory failure have unique nutritional needs and those with acute respiratory failure can suffer from malnutrition. Individualizing adequate caloric and protein support to meet your patient’s respiratory demands may be crucial for their respiratory health. Malnutrition is the enemy of respiratory disease since it can impair respiratory muscle functioning, reduce ventilatory drive, and decrease lung defense mechanisms to fight infections.  Creating an adequate, personalized plan of nutrition or having your patient work with a registered dietitian (RD) who specializes in respiratory illnesses may help to ensure they eat properly and get the maximum caloric and protein requirements to meet the heavy demands of their illness and prevent malnutrition.
- Create a pulmonary rehabilitation home plan.Sending patients home with an individualized home exercise plan, which may provide better exercise capacity, decreased dyspnea, and improved quality of life is crucial for positive respiratory outcomes. A pulmonary rehab program helps your patients live better with their respiratory illness. Each patient’s home pulmonary program should be different according to their specific condition and abilities but should consist of warm-ups, endurance, strength and flexibility stretches to help open their chest and lungs for easier breathing and improved muscle strength, balance and flexibility. Including breathing strategies, energy conserving techniques and goal setting that can be measured in follow up appointments as part of their home rehab plan goes the extra mile to offering patient’s excellent continuation of care.
- Engage patients and family members. Patients who have more engaged family members may have improved outcomes. The more education you can offer to a patient’s family members and caretakers, the better adherence with treatment and prevention of readmission. When patients’ families are coached and understand their loved ones condition, risk factors, home measures, follow up care and when to seek additional care, the better the outcome for your patient. Go the extra mile here to really engage with your patient’s family. It can make the difference in their quality of life and respiratory health. 
- Improve your communication skills.Speaking and engaging with patients in the proper ways can help improve their outcomes, and help them be compliant with treatment and recommendations. While nurses are held to a high standard of communication skill to be able to liaison between physicians and patients, respiratory therapists must also display the same high level of communication skills in an era of more and more digitization. Not only can excellent communication skills build confidence when dealing with difficult patients, physicians, or family members, but continually developing more effective communication skills may have a positive effect on patient satisfaction and outcomes, according to research. [4,5] Using patient simulators,  training exercises and equipment to enhance communication skills, taking advanced healthcare communication courses and participating in communications training available to you can help you continually work to maintain and increase the best possible communication techniques, strategies and strengths, which will provide your patients with the best care.
 UPMC. Incentive Spirometry. 2011 August [cited 2018 May]. Available from: http://www.upmc.com/patients-visitors/education/breathing/pages/incentive-spirometry.aspx
 Fournier, M. Caring for patients in respiratory failure. American Nursing Today. 2014 November [cited 2018 May]; 9(11). Available from /http://www.americannursetoday.com/caring-patients-respiratory-failure/
 American Lung Association. The basics of pulmonary rehabilitation. [Cited 2018 May] Available from http://www.lung.org/lung-health-and-diseases/lung-procedures-and-tests/pulmonary-rehab.html
 Ward, L. Using simulation to teach communication. RT Magazine. 2012 July [cited 2018 May]. Available from http://www.rtmagazine.com/2012/07/using-simulation-to-teach-communication/
 Smith, M. Best care at lower cost: The path to continuously learning healthcare in America. The National Academies Press. 2013 [cited 2018 May]; chapter 7. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK207225/pdf/Bookshelf_NBK207225.pdf