Using technology to understand my COPD
Ian lives with COPD. Since being diagnosed, he’s found technology a great tool to help manage his condition.
Having lived for 60 years in a smoking world, and been a smoker myself, it was no real surprise when my ‘smokers cough’ turned out to be lung disease 15 years ago.
My GP told me matter-of-factly: you’ve got chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). I was given an inhaler and a peak flow meter. I had already given up smoking and so I imagined all was under control.
Little did I know how little I knew.
I felt like a tin of peas on a production line. I was just going along with things and not knowing what questions to ask. ‘I’ll see you again in 3 months’ became a commonly-heard phrase. I didn’t even know whether bronchitis or emphysema was my major problem, of whether both were affecting me equally.
Looking back, I wonder why it took me so long to realise the problem. My GP had 1,200 other patients to worry about and the specialist had several thousand more. And anyway, just whose health was it? Mine. I wasn’t taking any real interest or responsibility in my own health. If I wasn’t, what else should I expect?
Taking control of my condition
I resolved to make a change. I began making notes morning and evening, not just of my peak flow reading but of other wellness areas. I rated my sleeping, coughing, nasal condition, breathlessness, caffeine, exercise, medications and several other points. Like other people of a certain age, I also had other health conditions. I took those into account as well as the medications for them.
It wasn’t long for the notes I’d been taking to show patterns. This gave me evidence I could use to help understand and manage my condition. I knew what drugs were working and which weren’t. I could predict a flare-up before it became critical.
By making changes to my lifestyle I was able to reduce the impact of my other conditions on my COPD. But perhaps more significantly, my notes became a key part of my consultations. And these meeting became fewer as I learnt more about myself. My conversations with my health care professionals no longer relied on my memory - I was able to put real facts and figures on the table for discussion.
Encouraging the use of self-management tools
I’ve since turned my notes into a smartphone-based self-management tool. After it’s gone through clinical trials, it will be released free to NHS Wales. I hope it will bring real benefits to other people living with COPD and health services, just like it has for me.
I’m an advocate for digital self-management tools for all long-term conditions. They help people confront, challenge and manage their conditions, which in turn saves GP visits, specialists’ time and emergency hospital admissions. If 3 million people with lung disease were to use self-management tools and reduce their GP visits by even just 1 a year, by my reckoning it would free up 247 years of GP time!
Based on my own journey, it’s my firm belief that all people with a lung condition should take notes of their own wellness areas to build a better understanding of their condition. There are many online app diaries that can be used for this purpose and can be personalised to everyone’s own needs.
By investing a few minutes each day to get to know yourself better you can make a real difference to managing your condition. Use the technology that’s out there and it will pay off!