How RTs Keep Up With New Medications

 Published: August 16, 2017

By: Heather Willden


image of woman holding an inhaler

The pharmaceutical industry is constantly developing new medications for patients with respiratory conditions, and while that is certainly a good thing, it can leave respiratory therapists feeling as if they are always playing catch up.

What do AARC members do to stay informed about the respiratory medications prescribed for their patients? We asked members of the AARC’s Specialty Sections to weigh in.

Additional resources

Lisa Pisarek, RRT, CPFT, considers herself lucky when it comes to obtaining information about new medications. As a member of a busy physician practice, she benefits from the many drug reps that come by to speak to the physicians.

“I also work per diem in a local community hospital,” she said. ”My fellow staff at the hospital are often unfamiliar with new inhalers that I am fortunate to already know all about.”

Michael McPeck, RRT, FAARC, is a specialist in aerosol science, but even he finds it hard to keep up with new medications. First, there are so many coming on the market, and second, so many of them now come with their own dedicated delivery device.

He taps into his professional contacts, pharma marketing, and online sources to remain on track. Two web-based resources he recommends are Orally Inhaled Nasal Drug Products, a weekly subscription blog and website, and Inhalation Drug Delivery Specialist, which operates on LinkedIn.

The web is the go-to place for new drug info for John Rivituso, RRT-NPS, CPFT, as well.

“There is a site called First Word that I receive emails from every day,” Rivituso said. “It’s free and has updates on the pharma industry, including drugs that have received FDA approval and those that have not.”

Robert Erickson, RRT-NPS, RPFT, looks to his professional organizations and other well-known sources to remain current.

“In addition to being a 40+ year member of the AARC, I am an allied member of the ACCP and an avid reader of the pulmonary section of Medscape,” Erickson said. “These two additional resources keep me ahead of the curve and keep the staff ready for new inhaled drugs in the pipeline.”

He helps his staff and the students who rotate through his department stay up to date by preparing an abbreviated drug sheet that provides them with a quick way to review the latest medications.

Getting busy

Denise Peppler, RRT-NPS, says she doesn’t do enough on this front, but a recent patient experience spurred her to do more.

“When a patient mentioned a drug I was unfamiliar with, I got busy,” Peppler said.

Now she keeps a small book in her pocket where she jots down medications she doesn’t see as often, along with newer drugs, indications, actions, and side effects.

“Our hospital had a learning module with a handful of newer ones that I added to my page.”

As an RT at a critical access hospital that only staffs family practice providers, Vicki Engmark, BS, RRT, CPFT, AE-C, says she relies heavily on drug reps for information about new medications.

“We get samples of the new drugs, and by trying them and following up on patients in the clinic … we learn about the drug and its response and how patients liked or disliked how it worked or the delivery system,” Engmark said.

Jill Brown, RRT, and her colleagues came up with a couple of charts to help them keep track of medications and devices. The first lists drugs by class, such as long-acting bronchodilators, short-acting bronchodilators, and more. The second is a new medication chart developed by their pulmonologist.

They use these charts in their pulmonary rehabilitation program, where they believe it is essential to talk to patients about their medications and how to properly use them.

“We have many patients tell us, after being taught about medications, how much better they feel and less short of breath they are,” Brown said.

Education is key

Kenny Miller, MEd, MSRT, RRT-ACCS, RRT-NPS, AE-C, FAARC, says attending conferences helps him stay abreast of clinical trials on new medications and the different therapeutic options coming down the pike. He also meets regularly with product vendors and has them provide in-services on their new medications, and discusses new medication options with his pharmacy department.

As a pulmonary disease educator and self-management coach, Dan Wilson, RRT, AE-C, CPFT, applauds the efforts of drug companies to come up with new and more effective medications for respiratory patients. But he says problems can arise when patients are prescribed new medications — or their drug plan changes formularies and they are given a new medication — and they aren’t educated on its use.

“For our elderly and low health literacy patient populations this can be confusing and sometimes scary, especially if a patient has two or three different inhaled medications that all have a different device type,” Wilson said.

He believes it’s his job — and indeed, the job of RTs everywhere — to stay current so they can make sure those patients get the education they need to make the most of their respiratory medications.

Email with questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you.

Heather Willden

Heather Willden is the Director of Governance and Strategic Initiatives for the AARC where she works with state affiliates as the HOD liaison. She also manages DEI efforts and strategic initiatives. Connect with her about these topics by email, AARConnect or LinkedIn. When she's not working, you can find her podcasting with her husband, exploring new hiking trails, photographing, and spending time with her family.

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