Clinics help patients breathe easier

Patients with Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (COPD) are getting a little extra help managing their condition, as they approach the winter season.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes,

An Army veteran who was once an avid runner, Russell Rainwater recently joined a group of people at IU Health North who were eager to learn. They are among the most vulnerable when it comes to controlling the effects of chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD).

“I’ve had a lot of breathing problems,” said Rainwater. “I just want to make sure I’m doing everything I can to take care of myself – especially as we go into the winter months.” A few years ago he was diagnosed with asthma and on his worst days he was on a breathing machine.

During the past few weeks a number of IU Health practitioners have come together to facilitate winterization clinics throughout the city.

“These clinics are important because we want to help do everything humanly possible to decrease the risk of flu and pneumonia in patients with an already compromised respiratory status,” said Anne O’Connor Clark, an IU Health care manager with population health services and a nurse who works specifically with COPD patients.

Topics covered included smoking cessation, spirometry (a common pulmonary function test) and pulmonary rehabilitation. Medical assistants helped participants get their immunizations up to date and a social worker connected them with community resources.

Each participant received a flu/cold season preparation list that included: Verifying that vaccinations are current, have inhaler technique assessed, have lung function tested and know who to call if you need help. Participants were also given techniques for preventing infections: Wash hands often and keep hands away from their face, use hand sanitizer when soap isn’t available, avoid shaking hands, and use a mask when spending time with people who are ill.

“Their symptoms can get so severe and so scary that fear is a huge component in COPD care,” said Dr. Rick Bernhardt, medical director, Population Health, IU Health Physicians. During this year’s pilot program, all five clinics are at capacity registration. Similar clinics implemented last year at IU Health Arnett showed positive outcomes for COPD patients. “They took a group of known patients with respiratory conditions and did some group visits with them, had them all meet in one place and talk about how they manage symptoms,” says Bernhardt. “Those people had a better winter than they had previously.”