Norene Parke (left) with some of the paramedics at a COPD clinic in Ashcroft on July 31. Photo: Barbara Roden

COPD clinic allows people to breathe easier

Community paramedics were on hand to help people manage their respiratory illnesses

Nearly 40 people—some from as far away as Clinton—were in Ashcroft on July 31 to take part in a Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Education and Awareness clinic hosted by BC Emergency Health Services.

Although the focus was on COPD—particularly those who have been newly diagnosed, or who are having challenges in managing their situation—the event was open to anyone with a respiratory condition. Ten community paramedics—who are a new part of the B.C. Ambulance Service in rural and remote communities—and a superintendent were there to answer questions, check blood pressure, discuss COPD management techniques, home health monitoring, and more, while local pharmacist Jon Wiensendahl was there to discuss medications and give puffer use demonstrations.

COPD is an umbrella term used to describe progressive lung diseases including emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and non-reversible asthma. This disease is characterized by increasing breathlessness.

“We’re here to allow people to better live comfortably, and understand what they’re going through,” said Ashcroft Community Paramedic Philip Schuberg. “We play a community care role, trying to keep people at home and treat them before they have to go to the emergency department.”

A note from one of the clinic attendees shows that the approach is working. “I get to stay at home!” it read.

Schuberg said that community paramedicine includes a focus on patients with COPD, hypertension (high blood pressure), congestive heart failure, and diabetes, as well as fall prevention. Community paramedics are also playing a role in palliative care.

“It’s something new we’re taking on,” said Schuberg. “We’re trying to keep people in comfort, manage their pain, and assist their palliative team.”

Norene Parke, BCEHS District Manager for Fraser-Cariboo, said that virtual health care—which has recently been introduced in the district—is very exciting.

“It’s the first time in Canada that community paramedics have been able to bring doctors into people’s homes virtually,” she said. The service is designed for people who have limited access to health care providers, or who have mobility issues.

“The community paramedic goes into someone’s home and brings the physician online via a secure connection so they can have a meeting, It’s just like being at the clinic. The community paramedic is able to take vitals, do an assessment, and relay that information to the primary care physician.”

Chris Michel, a community paramedic mentor for the Fraser district, said he’s very excited about the virtual health care aspect.

“I’ve never heard of this happening anywhere else,” he said. “We’ve been working on it since February and just launched it a couple of weeks ago. We’ve already made five [virtual health care] visits, and people love it.

“It decreases their time in emergency, and allows us to treat issues before they become severe. There’s a prevalence of COPD in this area, and if you’re living with COPD it can be difficult to move, so bringing physicians into the home is huge.”

Michel added that when there is a lot of smoke in the air, as in the past two summers, the virtual health care will be a boon to people already suffering from respiratory illness. “It means they can stay in their home, where they have clean air, instead of having to go out.”

Parke said that the virtual health care program was spearheaded by Dr. Nancy Humber, the medical director for the South Cariboo local health area. Another program offered by the community paramedics is home health monitoring, where they monitor and report on patient health trends to the patient’s health care team. This assists with keeping an accurate, consistent, and updated care plan and helps people better self-manage their health from the comfort of their homes.

The home health monitoring program joins the telehealth heart home monitoring program that helps people who have been diagnosed with heart failure, which is provided through Royal Inland Hospital. It helps area residents deal with their condition in an informed way, with the help of modern technology.

The program—the result of a partnership between Interior Health and Telus—sees eligible patients visited by a Telus representative, who provides a scale, blood pressure monitor, oximeter, and tablet, and connects them via the Internet to RIH.

Every day for three months the patient records her or his weight, blood pressure, and blood oxygen reading with the equipment provided, and uses the tablet to answer a series of questions about their heart health.

To access any of the services provided by the community paramedics, a patient needs a referral from any primary care provider, such as a physician, nurse, or nurse practitioner.

“We’re really pushing home health monitoring,” said Parke. “We hope it can be a prototype for other areas, and help promote self-care.”

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Velma Dale (left) consults with Clinton Community Paramedic Diana Guerin during a COPD clinic hosted by BC Emergency Health Services in Ashcroft on July 31. Photo: Barbara Roden

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