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FEB 25/2015

What can locum doctors do to improve COPD treatment?

Locum doctors are often placed in a very challenging position. Whether in a GP setting or in a hospital, the unique demands of their role means they have to have stronger and more confident communication and decision-making skills than their permanent counterparts.

Although this can be simple when a patients comes in with a sprained finger or a knock to their head, it can be much more complicated when someone has a long-term health problem. Locums are not able to get to know a patient for a certain amount of time before making a diagnosis, and often have to rely heavily on their own judgement, experience and skills to ensure the patient gets the best and most well-suited care possible.

A new clinical report has highlighted one group of patients that locum doctors are likely to be faced with over the next few years.  Being diagnosed with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) can significantly change a person's quality of life, and it's important that the right treatment options are delivered to patients.

According to the National COPD Audit Programme, the mortality rates have significantly decreased from 7.8 per cent in 2008 to 4.3 per cent in 2014. There has also been an encouraging rise in the number of patients being able to be discharged from hospital sooner because of collaboration with early/supported discharge schemes, rising from 18 per cent to 40 per cent across the same period.

However, the research showed that the quality of care significantly increased when patients were seen by a specialist. Many patients were managed on non-respiratory wards and some were discharged without communication with respiratory specialists. Care at the weekends was also an issue highlighted by the report, with the number of patients being seen by specialists dropping significantly at the weekend.

Bolster weekend workforces

With the report suggesting there is a significant drop in care for COPD patients at weekends, locums are ideally placed to help address this need. Locum doctors can help ensure there is no drop in the level of care that patients receive. Although specialists are advantageous, agency workers of all different disciplines can help alleviate this demand and ensure that patients get the time and investment from staff they need.

Take in the bigger picture

With smoking being the leading cause of COPD, it's essential that patients feel they have all the tools and resources necessary to change their lifestyle if they haven't already. Many patients may worry about being judged or looked down upon by their doctor, but this offers locums a useful advantage. Whether in a practice or hospital, locum doctors offer the chance for a fresh start. It may be that they haven't got on well with their previous doctor or feel obliged to lie about their habits to them. Locums are not privy to any of this information, meaning they can make a positive impact on patients. Using their comprehensive communication skills, agency workers can engage with people on a level that their regular doctor may not have been able to.

By removing the complications that come from a long-established relationship, locum doctors can deliver a high level of care to patients.

Utilising other skills

The advantage of using locum staff is that you can quickly access people with a different skill set from that of the current workforce. In terms of patients with COPD, it may be a matter of addressing other issues that might be more in the remit of an occupational therapist or social care worker.

For more information about COPD please visit the BLF website here.

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