BIRMINGHAM (KFSN) --More than 11 million Americans have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. But an estimated 24 million may have it and not know it because they mistake some of the symptoms as signs of just getting older. There is no cure for COPD but doctors are testing out a new way of managing the disease.
Forty-five years of smoking have taken their toll on Harold Ridgeway's health. At 76-years-old he is learning to live with COPD- an incurable disease found mostly in smokers. Symptoms are similar to bronchitis. And even though they usually worsen over time, Ridgeway is actually starting to feel better.
Ridgeway told Ivanhoe, "I probably feel a whole lot younger than my 76-years-old."
That's because he was one of 14 patients who took part in a University of Alabama research project to improve symptoms of COPD.
Surya Bhatt, MD, Pulmonologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham told Ivanhoe, "We thought, since we know that rehab and exercise improves functionality of the patients and reduces readmission rates, let's take the exercise program to the patients' houses and try to make a difference there."
Doctors sent patients home with a smartphone. They used skype to coach them through simple pulmonary exercises while monitoring their blood pressure, heart rate and oxygen saturation. And they did this for one hour a day, three days a week, for three months.
Ridgeway said, "You can't quit like you could if you were doing it on your own and got tired."
Dr. Bhatt explained, "They have to do this two to three times a week. So for a majority of our patients that's a huge time and financial constraint which we can easily overcome by having them do this at home."
In general, about 20 percent of people with COPD are readmitted to a hospital within 30 days. But that wasn't the case for any of the 14 patients in the study who, like Ridgeway saw significant improvement in their symptoms.
Dr. Bhatt is hoping to expand the study known as "The COPD get with it" program - and enroll more patients.
He says two-thirds of the healthcare costs of COPD result from hospitalizations, so reducing the number of readmissions could save patients, and the healthcare system, a lot of money.