Video-Conferencing Program Helps Patients Breathe Easy
Allows staff to provide direction, support to chronic respiratory sufferers outside Edmonton Sara Ditta, The Edmonton JournalPublished: 1:28 pm
Seventy-five-year-old Carmen Tien-kamp is buying a treadmill this week. After completing half of an eight-week program to help her manage her chronic lung disease, she's more mobile than she has been in years.
The Breathe Easy program, provided by the Caritas Centre for Lung Health at the Edmonton General Hospital, is designed to help patients manage chronic lung disease through exercise and education. Fitness keeps the rest of the body healthy and takes the load off of the diseased lungs. Tienkamp was diagnosed seven years ago with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, also known as COPD. Last August, she was put on supplementary oxygen.
"I had no energy," she said of her life before starting the Caritas program. "I was like a couch potato."
Patients across central and northern Alberta can also participate in the same program via live video through Capital Health's Telehealth network.
Art Measor, who lives in Wainwright, has taken the program twice. The first time, about 10 years ago, he drove 21/2 hours, twice a week, to participate. "It was worth it," he said.
In 2006, he needed it again after being treated for lung cancer and found the trip was no longer necessary. He only needed to travel five blocks to the Wainwright Health Centre. Measor, who was part of a two-year pilot project, consulted with a pulmonologist, listened to lectures and followed-up with doctors via live video. Exercise was overseen by rural therapists trained by Caritas staff.
After completing both versions of the course, he said there was little difference. "The video one is fabulous. It's exactly the same thing," Measor said. "I received a similar amount of attention and the same followup."
Dr. Fred MacDonald, who created and runs the program, tried to reach rural patients with his rehabilitation program for years. Technology finally provided him the opportunity in 2005. Since then, it has reached about 120 rural patients in Peace Country, Aspen, David Thompson and East Central regions.
"Country patients have done very, very well," said MacDonald. "We have the patients now telling us what a joy it is that they don't have to go into Edmonton and can exercise in their own community."
Reaching more regions is key because only 1.2 per cent of Canadians have access to a rehabilitation program to deal with COPD. "Most patients are given an inhaler and a lecture on COPD and told to deal with it," MacDonald said. "And that's it." A Canadian dies every hour from complications related to COPD. To keep chronic patients healthy, it's necessary to provide more direction, he said.
"It has to become a way of life," he said. "The only way you can achieve that is to physically bring them into a program and coerce or encourage, browbeat or whatever it takes, to get them to do the things that are necessary to improve their health."
This is believed to be the only rehabilitation program available through video-conferencing in Canada.
MacDonald says patients also wait less time to see a pulmonologist by using the program. Without it, many patients must wait about six months.
The program's exercise component includes stationary bicycling, treadmill, step-ups and simple breathing exercises. The lectures include topics on eating right, goals, relaxation, travel and homecare.
Myron Peterson took the program 10 years ago and still regularly visits the gym at Caritas to lift weights. He said he would probably be in "bad shape" now if he had never met MacDonald. "If it wasn't for him, a lot of us would be dead. I'm sure of that."
It's not unusual for patients to become more fit and active very quickly, said Tina Jourdain, a program respiratory therapist.
"Some of them put us to shame," she said. "It's embarrassing when an 80-year-old can do more on a treadmill than you and they have lung disease."