Navigating Rural Healthcare for Asthma Treatment
Last updated: October 2022
Up until two and a half years ago, I had zero experience with rural healthcare. I spent my entire life in the big city with access to anything and everything I needed medically. I also trained at a big city hospital and had a very well-rounded respiratory therapy education.
Transitioning to rural healthcare
Moving from a big city of 3.2 million in Southern California to a much smaller town of 35,000 in the Midwest has been quite an adjustment! I was fortunate enough to get a job in the local small-town rural hospital. While I have seen quite a lot in my 16-year career as a Respiratory Therapist, I am still learning new things as a result of living here. This rings true for both my personal and professional life. As a severe asthmatic, I had to very quickly learn to adapt and navigate my own healthcare in this rural setting. Here are some of the things I have learned:
Research your options
Whether you are new to a rural medical area or a seasoned pro, researching doctors and hospitals that are the closest to you is very important. Find the closest large/regional medical center in proximity to where you live in case you will need it at any time.
For me personally, I found a fabulous doctor here in my own town and their office is only a couple of miles from my house. My pulmonologist and cardiologist's offices are 45 min north at the regional medical center. Sometimes doctors who have their offices in the bigger cities will come down to the smaller towns one day a week or so if commuting is an issue. Look into which doctors may do this.
Be an advocate for yourself
As asthmatics, we know our lungs better than anyone else on the planet. We know what happens when our asthma starts flaring up and what helps us the best. Being a self-advocate is one of the best things we can do for ourselves. Have open communication with your doctor about how your asthma is doing. Most doctors' offices nowadays have it so you can email your doctor directly to ask questions and relay information. Sometimes this can save you a visit.
Learn as much as you can about asthma. Pharmaceutical companies are quite often coming out with new/different asthma inhalers and medicines and sometimes we learn about them before our doctors do.
Keep your asthma action plan up to date
I am a huge proponent of asthma action plans. An asthma action plan is a piece of paper that your doctor fills out with your help. It contains your daily asthma medications as well as exactly what steps to take and when to seek medical attention when you start to experience asthma symptoms. There is also a place to write down your green-yellow-red peak flow zones if you track that on a daily basis. Keep your asthma action plan up to date and go over it with your doctor at every appointment and make any adjustments if needed.
If you live in a very rural area or if your doctor's office is far from where you live, try to make your regularly scheduled appointments when it is an easier time to travel. For me personally, my pulmonologist has me come in every three months. I try not to schedule these appointments between the months of December-February because in my part of the country, that is when we get the most snow. Of course this doesn’t matter when you are sick and need to be seen right away. If driving is difficult or not possible for you, reach out to family or friends who are nearby and can drive you to your appointments or the hospital if need be.
These are just a few things that I have learned while adapting to rural healthcare. The care I have received here has been amazing, even in a rural setting. What are some things you have learned if you also live in a more rural area of the country? I’d love to hear it!
How has your experience with rural healthcare been?
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