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The Role of a Respiratory Therapist in Patient Care

A respiratory therapist is a healthcare professional who focuses primarily on a patient's respiratory system. The respiratory system consists of the nasal passages, throat, trachea, and lungs. If any of these areas become compromised, a patient runs a serious risk of being unable to breathe and oxygenate his or her blood effectively. In severe cases, respiratory failure causes death.

Initial Treatment

During an office visit, or in a non-emergency situation, a respiratory therapist will sit down with a patient to discuss his or her medical and family history. The therapist will also conduct a thorough examination of the patient's chest. This will include listening to breathing with the aid of a stethoscope and might include ordering and reviewing chest X-rays when necessary.

Important Bloodwork

If there is concern over the patient's ability to oxygenate his or her blood, blood will be drawn to assess oxygen and gas levels. This is part of the diagnostic treatment, and the results will give the respiratory therapist some clues as to what might be causing the patient's difficulty breathing. Test results will also be discussed with the patient's attending physician in an effort to diagnose the root of the problem.

Official Diagnosis

The therapist will discuss the official diagnosis and how grave it is with the patient. In some cases, the concern may be a temporary illness, such as the bronchitis, the flu, or pneumonia. In other cases, the patient may have a form of respiratory disease. Diseases that are incurable include CPOD, which stands for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, and emphysema. The latter two require permanent medical care.

Education and Recommended Therapy

As explained by the University of Cincinatti, one of the most important roles of a respiratory therapist is educating the patient and his or her family of the diagnosed illness and then prescribing a treatment plan that includes breathing exercises designed to expand the lungs' capacity and improve blood oxygenation. Depending on the disease, regular breathing treatments might also be recommended.

As the treatment progresses, the respiratory therapist will keep the patient's attending physician in the loop. Information technology has made this much easier for healthcare professionals. By designing a user-friendly way to exchange data instantly via an IT network, healthcare professionals can work together globally for optimal patient care. This University of Cincinatti infographic explains more.

Emergency Care

Respiratory therapists also work in an emergency capacity. These healthcare practitioners are on call to work in the ER and specialized practitioners work in the ICU/CCU and pediatric units. Should a patient fall into cardiac arrest, the respiratory therapist is there to revive him or her. In some cases, they are present during air or ground patient transfers to other healthcare facilities to ensure nothing happens en route.
A respiratory therapist's day or night on duty is far from boring. These specialists work with their patients and their doctors to diagnose and treat respiratory system ailments and disease. Their importance cannot be overstated. The body will not survive without oxygen, and a patient in distress must be able to regain his or her ability to oxygenate quickly to avoid serious complications or death.