Learned Empowerment: Asthma Education for Adults
If you’re struggling with your asthma and it doesn’t seem like doctors are helping as much as they could be, it could be worthwhile to consider requesting to visit a Certified Asthma Educator. Certified Asthma Educators are health professionals (nurses, doctors, physician’s assistants, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, healthcare social workers, health educators, physical and occupational therapists, and more)1, who have extra training in helping people figure out their asthma—they also have more time to spend with you than a doctor might.
With the internet at your fingertips, though, it might seem a little silly to visit someone to teach you about your asthma—after all, you are independently learning more about asthma right now. Asthma educators, though, go beyond simply teaching you about asthma—they can also help you get into motion again when you feel “stuck” with your asthma, or feel like your doctors don’t have the answers you’re looking for.
Through taking the time to get to know you, Asthma Educators are able to tailor what steps you need to take to achieve your best possible asthma control to YOU. While the Internet can provide some general steps, it’s really “one size fits most” out here—we recommend screening any changes you might be considering with a health professional anyways, so who better to clear things with than a health professional who has the time and skills to determine the right solution, if the one the Web has provided is not the right one for you? And, while I only have experience with one asthma educator myself, unlike your doctor potentially shaking his or her head when you appear with something you’ve read online, an educator will be happy you’re showing engagement, and help you wade through the information you’ve found.
Asthma education is about learned empowerment. Asthma educators recognize that you are the expert on you, so they’ll learn more about you, your experience with asthma, and other health conditions you may have, so that they can draw upon your other experiences to make learning how to best manage your asthma make more sense.2 They will also be able to take the time with you to explore what barriers are present to you making the changes needed to achieve better asthma control,2 and provide alternatives. For instance, while my doctors often question if I have carpeting in my bedroom and I answer yes, they say “You should get rid of that,” without considering the fact that it is really not as simple as pulling carpet up, as I live with my parents and it is really their carpet, not mine! Asthma educators help provide accurate translation from the lab—research studies and academic literature!—to the REAL world, where we are going to school and/or working and/or caring for children and/or caring for family members and/or running a household and/or traveling and NOT living inside of a research study, controlled lab, or textbook! And, they can help you figure out solutions that fit within these things—although it may require a bit of compromise or give-and-take.
Working to engage patients isn’t always easy—while the set of tools asthma educators and doctors have is relatively the same, the way they approach those changes may be different. Time may be the biggest of these differences, and the most crucial to underscoring the importance of asthma education professionals. Some patients may only require one or two sessions before they’re sent on their way, others may need to follow up regularly for awhile until their asthma is better controlled. A key factor, as well, is that asthma educators are educators—they understand how learning happens, that it may take time, and that the process is different for everyone.2 Some people value the feedback of peak flows or monitoring their symptoms regularly, others only consider these things when they are not feeling well; some may want greater independence than calling their doctor when things get worse and having other steps to take on their own, but knowing support is available; some may simply wish to affirm what they have learned from their doctor or other sources is accurate, or seek a “second opinion” that is self-driven rather than controlled by the maze of the medical system. 3 Asthma educators, though, are better able to centre the discussion around YOU as a patient, rather than asthma patients as a collective. Asthma education often takes place one-to-one, and it is a great opportunity to allow yourself to learn new things, or share what you do know, learn more, and learn how to apply that knowledge. And, if you screw up, asthma educators get it—and will help you figure out why, and put a plan in place to give you the tools to prevent slipping in the future.
As someone who considered myself a pretty engaged and well-educated asthma patient, I was a bit put off about being sent to an asthma educator by my primary care doctor when she ran out of other options, sent me to an asthma educator. While I entered my hour-long session with a pretty closed mind, I can’t say it wasn’t worthwhile. The educator did say she wasn’t sure why my doctor had sent me to see her, because I knew my stuff even at that point five-plus years ago—from here, though, she did confirm that my level of understanding of my asthma is solid, and that I am doing everything I can, the best I can. Even if you are in this position, like I was, returning to your doctor, especially one who is not an asthma specialist, after they’ve read the notes from the asthma educator only helps in the long run—they can help advocate for you, as well as work with you on self-advocacy skills. Asthma educators value not only the perspective but also the skills that you bring to your discussions with them 3—it is a truly collaborative, team effort, and one that should respect your beliefs and opinions, and have goals modified to work within what fits your world.3
Have you visited an asthma educator? What was the process like for you? Did you feel more ready to tackle your asthma afterwards? Share your story in the comments!