COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, refers to a family of conditions involving the heart, lungs, and vascular system. This condition is common in the US, affecting over 15 million Americans. On a global scale, estimates are more challenging to ascertain, ranging from a little under 300 million people to 400 million people. This puts the total portion of Earth’s population suffering from COPD at around 7.7-10.3%.
COPD patients typically suffer from either emphysema or chronic bronchitis. This disease manifests itself through a host of symptoms, including a persistent cough and wheeze accompanied by mucus, overall lethargy, constricted breath (muscle tightness), hand/foot swelling, frequent respiratory infections, and (in some cases) weight loss. COPD patients already have significant damage to their lungs by the time they first start experiencing symptoms; the primary causes of COPD are cigarette smoking, smoke inhalation, and exposure to airborne particulate matter.
While COPD is a serious, progressive disease, it is treatable. The story doesn’t end there, though. Many COPD patients lack quality care due to numerous barriers. When patients receive treatment through their primary physician, it is not necessarily quality care; many medical professionals lack knowledge of how to treat the disease. Even when healthcare providers are informed on how to treat this chronic condition, they do not always refer patients to treatment options such as pulmonary rehabilitation/therapy (because they do not have availability to these services). As a result of this unfortunate confluence, COPD is a leading cause of death worldwide.
Turning this statistic around begins with the correct COPD care–commencing directly post-diagnosis. Because general practitioners are not always informed of COPD, the diagnosis and treatment of the disease fall on patients reporting symptoms and their willingness to adopt lifestyle modifications–smoking cessation being the most common of these changes. This burden can lead to discrepancies in COPD care.
Issues in COPD care span across race, as well. Black individuals tend to have high smoking rates, and live in areas that lack clean air. Due to this reality, black adults have a greater likelihood of developing COPD (in comparison to other racial groups). Black COPD patients also tend to have less access to healthcare due to issues such as low income.
Another factor? Men tend to report symptoms less frequently than women, leading to underdiagnosis of the disease. Additionally, it has been found that COPD patients that have comorbidities, are over 70, or are female are less likely to be referred to pulmonary rehabilitation (PR), also known as pulmonary therapy. Pulmonary rehabilitation is essential towards the successful treatment of COPD; PR entails exercise and behavior modification to ameliorate COPD symptoms. While PR is covered by certain health insurance providers and Medicare (under certain conditions), an average session costs $179.
You’re probably thinking that PR can lessen long-term healthcare costs due to decrease in hospital stays–and you’re correct! The short-term cost of PR, however, can be unattainable for some COPD patients. Adherence to treatment can also be difficult for COPD patients due to lack of motivation, physical weakness, poor social support, and lack of access to transportation.
The rate of COPD diagnosis has increased substantially in the past 20 years, which makes these barriers even more concerning.
FlexTogether can help decrease the barriers that these COPD patients may face by providing virtual PR that is optimized for low bandwidth. Classes are divided into different levels, allowing users to choose the level of their exercise intensity. Through providing different levels of exertion, COPD patients are more likely to adhere to treatment. The logic behind this practice is that even patients who are physically weak can still do exercises that can lessen their symptoms.
FlexTogether also helps users stay motivated by providing social support through group classes. Exercising with others creates a sense of community. FlexTogether also tailors treatment to each individual patient by creating personalized programs. These regimens include pre-recorded exercise videos and virtual appointments with physical therapists, speech-language pathologists, and respiratory therapists. By providing these telehealth services, FlexTogether caters to patients that have difficulty attending healthcare appointments due to lack of transportation or other mobility barriers.
Besides providing virtual exercise classes and health services, FlexTogether also equips COPD patients with knowledge on health literacy. Poor health literacy is prevalent among older adults, minorities, and individuals with low socio-economic status (SES). By improving health literacy, FlexTogether allows patients to better navigate their care and learn about their disease. This is important for overall well being; high health literacy among COPD patients has been shown to reduce overall stress and rates of hospitalization.
As previously mentioned, COPD affects a wide scope of patients from many ethnicities. FlexTogether values diversity internally by including staff and specialists from many different backgrounds. This is a core team value as wellness practitioners and healthcare professionals: the input of varied perspectives allows FlexTogether to pursue iterative innovation in how patient care is delivered.
COPD is a serious, life threatening condition that affects millions globally. With the right care for each patient–and access to that care–outcomes can be drastically improved. FlexTogether offers a one-stop solution for pulmonary therapy and lung rehabilitation–all from the comfort of your own home. If you or a loved one has recently been diagnosed–or are looking to optimize your current care regimen–visit us and learn more about the possibilities to breathe easier.
Are you managing a chronic lung condition at home? FlexTogether is a comprehensive telehealth practice bringing respiratory rehab into your home.