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Getting With the Program

A look at resources that can help you manage your COPD

Many employers and health insurance plans now offer disease management programs for a number of medical conditions. You might have heard about some for weight management or diabetes care, but did you know there also are many to help you manage your chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)?

More companies have been adding COPD disease management programs to their list of benefits, so let's take a look at what they have to offer.

A quick review

COPD disease management programs combine a number of ways to help you improve control of your COPD symptoms and lessen harmful effects. Disease management professionals use a team approach to care rather than just giving you directions. They work with you to improve your treatment plan, watch your progress, and often provide support after hours.

Some programs send a health care professional to meet with you regularly at your home and then follow up with phone calls or emails in between visits. Others don't require any face-to-face meetings. They might send you educational materials by mail and check your progress by phone or email.

The length and make-up of the program usually depends on the stage of your disease and the amount of time you're willing to commit. For some people, it might last a few months, while others choose to continue for a few years. As you progress, your health care providers will tailor the program to fit your changing needs.

Tests, tips, and techniques

Even though you'll find differences in how care is provided through these programs, you'll find they share the same basic ideas. The first step in any COPD disease management program is a general review of your health to figure out what level of care you need.

Health care providers will check basic vital signs and perform more specific tests to examine your lungs, breathing, exercise levels, and oxygen.

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A simple test called spirometry measures how much air you can breathe in and out, and how fast you can blow the air out of your lungs. A finger probe called a pulse oximeter also can measure the oxygen levels in your blood.

They'll use these and other results to help you come up with goals and a personalized plan to recognize your symptoms and steer clear of risks like smoking, dust, and people who are not well.

This might include lifestyle changes like quitting smoking, a healthy diet, exercise, and flu shots every year. Overall, they'll teach you how to use your medications, how to stick with your treatment, and how to track and respond to your symptoms.

If you're looking for something a little more intense and hands-on, find out if your health insurance offers coverage for pulmonary rehabilitation programs. They incorporate similar lessons but provide more direct contact with medical professionals, usually through two to four visits at a medical facility each week.

Many resources are available to help you manage your disease. Regardless of which one you choose to use, working to get your disease under control is the first step to improving your health and quality of life.

Information provided by Jakki Grimball, MA, RRT, AE-C, the asthma and COPD program administrator at BlueChoice HealthPlan.

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