Respiratory Therapy Helps You to Breathe Easy
October 2012 - Most of us take breathing for granted.RRTs are crucial members of the health care team.
Most of us take breathing for granted. Rising levels of pollution, combined with an aging population, are making breathing difficulties more common and for an increasing population, taking a breath of air is at times a major effort or even a struggle.
Approximately one in five Canadians has some form of lung disease. Canada has one of the highest incidences of asthma in the world with an estimated three million Canadians living with the disease. In addition, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is the only chronic disease with an increasing number of deaths, especially among women.
In the hospital setting, when people experience respiratory difficulties, Registered Respiratory Therapists (RRTs) are often the first health care practitioners involved in their care. RRTs are highly trained professionals who monitor, educate, evaluate and treat individuals with respiratory and cardio-respiratory disorders such as asthma and COPD. The profession of Respiratory Therapy is over 45 years old and there are more than 7,000 RRTs in Canada.
“Registered Respiratory Therapists are graduates of a three-year college diploma program, and in order to work in Ontario, they must pass a registration examination to become Members of the College of Respiratory Therapists of Ontario (CRTO),” says Paul Nanne, RRT Coordinator at Sault Area Hospital (SAH). According to Nanne, Respiratory Therapists must also participate in ongoing quality assurance activities. “This ensures high professional standards and is required to maintain their licenses to practice since, like physicians and nurses, RRTs are strictly regulated professionals.”
RRTs are crucial members of the health care team. Specializing in both cardiac and pulmonary care, RRTs often collaborate with physicians and nurses in various aspects of patient clinical care, playing a vital role in both medicine and nursing. SAH has a total of 21 RRTs on staff and can be found throughout the hospital, working in various areas such as the Emergency Department, Intensive Care Unit, Maternity, the Pulmonary Function Lab and the Operating Room, to name a few.
In the Intensive Care Unit and the Emergency Department, RRTs are called upon by physicians to provide airway management. “We provide breathing assistance including initiating and managing life support, stabilizing and monitoring high risk patients who are moved from hospital to hospital, and administering inhaled drugs and medical gases such as asthma medication, oxygen and anesthetic gases,” explains Nanne.
RRTs are called upon in various other areas of the hospital whenever airway management expertise is required. “For example, in the Maternity Unit an RRT assists in all high risk births, providing support to the physician during any resuscitation of the baby and/or mother as necessary,” says Nanne. “We also provide follow-up on many inpatients with serious respiratory issues.”
Respiratory Therapists are primary clinicians in conducting tests to measure lung function and teaching people to manage asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder among many other cardiac and lung problems. “We have an outpatient Pulmonary Function Lab which performs a number of lung function tests, assists with diagnosis of asthma and provides patient education,” states Nanne. “We also value the work of community programs such as the Algoma Respiratory Education Program at the Group Health Centre, which helps to reduce hospital admissions through patient education and teaching.”
Respiratory Therapists can further their training and take on expanded roles such as Anesthesia Assistants (AAs), Asthma and COPD Educators, or Smoking Cessation Counselors. Though the use of AAs is still relatively rare in Northern Ontario, SAH is fortunate to have two AAs working as part of the Anesthesia Care Team in the operating room.
“AAs are Respiratory Therapists with specialized training to assist with operative and anesthesia services under the supervision and availability of an anesthesiologist,” says Allison Richard, RRT and Anesthesia Assistant at SAH. “To become an AA, a health care practitioner must be a registered respiratory therapist (RRT) or a registered nurse (RN) with at least two years of intensive care experience.” Richard adds that practitioners go through basic and advanced training, followed by a clinical placement.
AAs can be called upon to perform a myriad of tasks including advanced level airway management, monitoring and administering anesthetics, inserting intravenous and arterial lines, maintaining anesthetic equipment and assisting in the training of medical students, respiratory therapy students and newly hired staff. AAs can also be found assisting the anesthetist in other areas such as Ophthalmology, Labour and Delivery and Diagnostic Imaging. “We also often assist in the recovery room with patients who require extra monitoring after surgery,” says Richard. “The AA can assist the nurse with monitoring the recovering patient while the anesthetist prepares for the next surgery.”
Having the added support in the operating room is invaluable. “An extra pair of hands in the operating room is a great help, particularly during complex surgeries that require more equipment and monitoring,” explains Interim Chief of Staff and Medical Affairs, Dr. Heather O’Brien. “The presence of Anesthesia Assistants helps with the management of overall care in the operating room, contributing to improved patient safety and ultimately, enhanced quality of care for the patient.”
Respiratory Therapists Week is October 21-27 - a perfect time to thank and salute the entire Respiratory Therapy team at SAH and everywhere for their exceptional contributions to patient care!
Rose Calibani is the Public Affairs Officer at Sault Area Hospital. We welcome comments and suggestions for future column topics. Please call Public Affairs at (705) 759-3671.