Crouse Hospital in Syracuse, N.Y., is changing the way it cares for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients by giving respiratory therapists (RT) a much bigger role in their care.

The hospital in November began phasing in its “Lung Partners” program that puts RTs at the forefront of its efforts to help COPD patients better manage their disease and stay out of the hospital. 

COPD is an umbrella term used to describe lung diseases such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis that slowly gets worse over time. The nation’s third leading cause of death, COPD is a frequent cause of hospitalizations and hospital readmissions.

MaskLung Partners has RTs taking over the primary care for COPD patients. About 40 RTs care for about 200 COPD patients under the program. The RT is assigned a specific patient. The therapists educate patients about their disease, medications and any devices they need to use, such as nebulizers. They also screen patients for depression, an often undiagnosed condition that affects about 35% of COPD patients. 

After the COPD patients leave the hospital, RTs visit them at home to make sure they are taking their medications properly.

Russell Acevedo, M.D., the hospital’s medical director for respiratory care, says that RTs have a better understanding of their patients' needs and can better match medications, devices and other interventions to those needs.

Russell Acevedo, M.D.“The patients love the attention,” he says. “We are building relationships and a continuity of care between the COPD patients and their therapists.”

Lung Partners already has resulted in fewer late treatments and fewer 30-day readmissions for respiratory reasons, says Acevedo.

Acevedo observes that value-based payment models are moving providers to establish programs designed to keep patients healthier and out of the acute-care setting. “This is all about how well you are managing the [chronic care] population,” he says. “And I think we’re on the right track with how we are taking care of our COPD patients.”