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Ways That a Respiratory Therapist Can Help Patients Manage Breathing

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Seeking support and expertise from an RRT helps those with respiratory illnesses to avoid unnecessary hospital admissions.

Canada’s in the middle of respiratory disease season. While many people can get through an illness without seeking medical attention, some become seriously ill and require significant levels of care.

Registered respiratory therapists (RRTs) can play an integral role in helping patients in a variety of settings, from at-home care to emergency rooms.

Providing specialized care in the ER/Improving patient outcomes in the ER

When someone experiences shortness of breath and goes to their local emergency room, RRTs are integral for care. “With the current RRT scope of practice and medical directives in place, using RRTs to full scope can work with the ER’s interprofessional team and treat clients to create flow and reduce unnecessary wait time in the ER,” says Jake Tran, President & CEO at the Toronto Grace Health Centre, Member of RTSO Board of Directors. 

In conjunction with the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) team, RRTs can decrease the length of stay in ICU. They can also provide care that extends beyond the hospital. “In general, internal medicine, working with discharge teams in hospitals and with respiratory agencies in community to facilitate faster and safe discharge to the community with appropriate care plans,” he says.

Closing the care gap for rural and urban patients

Jason Gibson, manager of Respiratory Therapy Services at the London Health Sciences Centre, University Hospital, Member of RTSO Board of Directors, understands firsthand the importance of RRTs. “When I worked as a respiratory therapist within the hospital as a clinical navigator, I identified patients admitted to the hospital with COPD and provided education about their chronic disease, as well determined the most appropriate follow-up,” he recalls.

While there are several programs, resources, and specialists available within the community, navigating them can be challenging. “By ensuring that patients have referrals sent and even appointments booked, prior to being discharged from the hospital, people are far less likely to slip between the cracks,” explains Gibson. “I ensured that, once the patient left the building, their care and recovery didn’t stop.”

With most chronic diseases, self-management and a strong link with primary care are key to improving overall outcomes and reducing readmissions. However, there is a gap between rural and urban communities. Services within larger city centres are typically plentiful, with four or five different options available for community referral and continuation of care for patients with COPD, for example. In smaller communities, it may be just one or two.

“While this is starting to improve with virtual care and remote clinics now being offered, there are still very large gaps between urban and rural communities when it comes to access to care,” notes Gibson.

A greater level of care with specialized training

RRTs have specialized knowledge and skills that make them the best health care provider to manage respiratory illness in the community, according to Andrea White Markham, Director of Education at the Canadian Network for Respiratory Care, RTSO Board of Director Advisor. “Their education covers the diagnosis and treatment of respiratory and cardiovascular disease, and many others that impact breathing.”

She says taking additional training as a CRE, CAE or CTE provides additional knowledge and skills in areas such as preventative health, chronic disease prevention, and providing support and education to facilitate self-management. When primary care RRTs with these designations are involved, research demonstrates that people living with asthma or COPD have better control of their disease, fewer symptoms, less flare-ups requiring emergency visits and better quality of life.

From smoking prevention and cessation support to partnering with family physicians and other members of primary care teams, RTs ensure everyone breathes a little easier and gets the care needed to support respiratory health.

Ask your health care provider how an RRT can help you or a loved one manage respiratory illness.

Learn more from the Respiratory Therapy Society of Ontario (, which represents over 4,000 RRTs in the province.

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