Breathlessness or shortness of breath at end of life is one of the most common and often distressing symptom for patients and their families and caregivers. It can lead to a reduction in a patient’s activities of daily living and social isolation. The intensity of the shortness of breath is not only the result of a myriad of physical changes associated with disease progression but, can also be impacted by a patient’s unresolved social, emotional and spiritual issues. There is a growing body of evidenced based knowledge that supports the practice that oxygen may not be the most effective therapy for relief of shortness of breath for all patients. We are committed to relieving the symptom of breathlessness in our patients as they approach end of life. We also want our patients, caregivers, communities and staff to avoid oxygen related fires and injuries while using oxygen therapy. So as a team it is important to evaluate each patient and their environment for potential risks to their safety and work to minimize these risks. At the same time, it is also important to work to find the safest most effective treatment for relief of the patient’s breathlessness.
As part of our compliance with the National Patient Safety Goals for 2011, Gilchrist Hospice Care has launched a two-part educational program for our staff on oxygen safety. Part one addresses any safety hazards related to using oxygen and was initiated in April 2011. Part two addresses screening patients for appropriateness of oxygen therapy at end of life and is to be rolled out in December 2011. The goal is to minimize the fire risks and fire related injuries associated with oxygen use through education of the patients their families and our staff while at the same time providing patients with the most effective treatment for relief of their shortness of breath.
By empowering our patients, family and staff through education on oxygen safety and the most effective treatments for breathlessness according to evidenced based practice, we are ensuring their comfort at end of life. Providing each patient with the most appropriate treatment options for relief of their breathlessness while maintaining their safety will ensure that we can all breathe easier.