What Does A Respiratory Therapist Do?

Patients suffering from breathing issues can get relief in the hands of respiratory therapists. They are healthcare professionals who work with patients of all age ranges suffering from disorders in their cardiopulmonary system. They provide intervention for those with asthma, pneumonia, emphysema, cystic fibrosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD and those with heart disorders. They may also work with fragile infants born premature and have lungs that are underdeveloped. They may also be asked to help in the diagnosis of patients who experience sleep apnea.

Before the advent of mechanical devices that lengthened the life of a person, the job of a respiratory therapist was unheard of. Now, they are the members of the healthcare team entrusted to operate sophisticated technological equipment that can greatly increase a patient’s chances of survival. Their belief in life-saving technologies, skill in operating them and genuine care for patients’ welfare all combine to literally make a person breathe again.

Respiratory therapists are an integral part of the healthcare team. Their expertise can put them in the emergency room, the pulmonary diagnostics laboratory and in intensive care units. For example, they help provide emergency care to drowning or stroke victims that are brought to the emergency room. They may also be found in operating rooms during surgical operations where they monitor the patient’s breathing while the surgeon puts a patient under the knife. They are also responsible for ensuring that ventilators and artificial airway devices that are attached to patients who cannot breathe by themselves are working properly.

The day-to-day responsibilities of respiratory therapists usually begin with taking down the medical history of patients and noting their symptoms. They then conduct diagnostic tests to further understand what the problem is. One test that they perform involves letting the patient breathe into a device that would measure the lung capacity. They may also test the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood by using a blood gas analyzer.

After conducting the diagnostic tests, respiratory therapists then confer with the patient’s doctor to come up with the treatment plan that would best address his condition. Among the treatment methods that respiratory use to help patients are administering and teaching patients how to use aerosol medications and chest physiotherapy. In this method, the therapist will vibrate the rib cage of the patient and then let him cough so that the mucus will be expelled from the lungs. This is one of the treatment methods used for cystic fibrosis sufferers.

For patients who need to be hooked to devices to be able to breathe, respiratory therapists are responsible for connecting a tube inserted to patient’s trachea to a ventilator. They then see to it that the ventilator is set correctly so that the patient is getting just the right amount of oxygen at the right pacing.

Educating patients and the family members caring for them is part of the job of respiratory therapists. They teach them the proper use of ventilators and life-support systems in the home. They may also visit the patients periodically to make sure that the breathing equipment is functioning as it should. They check the ventilator, clean it and make sure that there are no environmental dangers to it. They also determine if the patients are taking their medication as prescribed.

Whether their patients are located in the hospital or at home, respiratory therapists are responsible for monitoring their progress. They see to it that accurate records are kept and the patient’s response to treatment noted. If the patient does not seem to be responding to treatment, the respiratory therapist confers with his physician to make adjustments to the treatment plan. Respiratory therapists are also called upon to help handle emergency situations whether it is a Code Blue in the hospital or an urgent call from a family member who has a patient hooked to a life support system at home. They may also form part of an ambulance rescue team who will provide care to those caught in emergency situations.

They may also be asked to help educate those with breathing issues. For example, they may do smoking cessation counseling sessions to help smokers quit. They may also be asked to perform pulmonary rehabilitation sessions. They may also work in case management programs.

Career Spotlight: Respiratory Therapist

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