Peter Waterman, Communications Specialist, The Pharmacy Guild of Australia, Canberra
The ability to self-manage COPD is an integral step in slowing the progress of the disease and in helping patients to enjoy a better lifestyle. It is believed that many COPD patients would benefit from the early intervention that comes from following self-management plans, and this in turn may help to prevent a future crisis, including the possible need for hospital admission. However, being able to actively engage in self-management often takes coaching and expert advice and it is here the community pharmacy can offer services and advice to help COPD patients. One area is education in the correct use of an inhaler and it is surprising how many patients are not properly educated on this. The incorrect use of an inhaler means that you may not be getting the maximum benefit from the medicines you are taking. Whilst most people may be confident they have mastered the techniques, clinical studies show that up to a surprising 90 per cent of patients do not use their inhalers correctly. A visit to your local pharmacy and a talk with the pharmacists can result in some significant benefits for you including some of the simple steps you need to undertake to improve your inhaler technique so that your medicine gets the chance to do its work for you. The tips you get from your community pharmacy can include working on your inhaler breathing technique so the medicines actually reach your lungs rather than just hitting the back of your throat. It might sound simple but the importance of using your inhaler correctly cannot be underestimated.
Smoking cessation programs are critical elements of self-management for COPD patients and community pharmacies have a range of such programs, as well as products designed to help smokers quit and improve their health. Prevention is perhaps one of the best forms of self-management and community pharmacies are often able to provide COPD risk assessment and screening to alert consumers to possible risks and the likelihood of developing COPD. This screening includes lifestyle questions such as whether you are a smoker or a former smoker, whether you have worked where you are exposed to dust, gas or fumes, and whether you get out of breath more easily than others of a similar age. Lifestyle questions such as how much exercise you get can form part of this screening. Community pharmacies conducting these assessments will refer you for further examination and diagnosis if they believe this is necessary.
Another aspect of self-management which is important is to discuss any concerns you may have about the medicines you are taking. Your pharmacy can provide advice and counselling on the correct use of all these medicines, and also any possible interactions with other medicines you might be taking.
(This article first appeared on www.lungfoundation.com.au)