Get to know your PH Healthcare team

When you are diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension, you may have an expanding group of professionals on your healthcare team. From doctors to dieticians, the list below seeks to describe the various members of your PH team and the roles they play in your care.

Doctor of Medicine (MD): A trained medical professional who is licensed to practice medicine. This type of physician has graduated from a conventional allopathic medical school.

Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO): Just like an MD, a DO is a trained medical professional who is licensed to practice medicine. However, this type of physician has graduated from an osteopathic medical school. Osteopathic medical training is very similar to allopathic, but places special focus on preventative medicine, holistic care and the musculoskeletal system.

Cardiologist: An MD or DO who has extensive training as a heart and blood vessel specialist. Not all cardiologists specialize in PH treatment. Your PH cardiologist will work with your healthcare team to diagnose PH, monitor your symptoms and test results, and create a treatment plan.

Pulmonologist: An MD or DO who has specialized training in the cardio-pulmonary system. Not all pulmonologists specialize in PH treatment. Your PH pulmonologist will work with your team to diagnose PH, monitor your symptoms and test results, and create a treatment plan.

Nurse Practitioner (NP): A nurse with a graduate degree in advanced practice nursing. Licensed and certified nurse practitioners often work alongside doctors and can prescribe medications in many states.

Physician Assistant (PA): A medical professional who works under the supervision of physicians. They are nationally certified, state-licensed and work with physicians as a team.

Registered Nurse (RN): A state-licensed medical professional who provides patients with care and education. RNs also assist with PH research and clinical trials. Your RN may be the first person you contact when having problems related to your PH.

Palliative Care Specialist: Doctors, nurses or pharmacists who work to help you attain the best quality of life. Palliative care is often confused with hospice, but the two are different; palliative care is not solely an end-of-life option, but instead seeks to help patients reach their goals in regard to their health and PH. Often it involves symptom control, emotional and spiritual support, and pain and symptom management. For example, this person may be able to assist with pain management related to PH medications.

Pharmacist: A healthcare professional who is an expert in the use and safety of medications. They work collaboratively with the healthcare team to determine the best possible medication regimen to treat your PH. They also ensure that you understand your medication’s side effects and drug interactions.

Respiratory Therapist (RT): A healthcare professional who is involved in the evaluation, monitoring and treatment of breathing problems. Respiratory therapists work in a variety of settings, including the emergency room, rehabilitation facilities and outpatient centers.

Medical Assistant (MA): A professional who performs both administrative as well as clinical work in order to support the work of physicians and other healthcare providers. Depending on their specific role, they may check your blood pressure, draw blood or help your healthcare team coordinate different aspects of your visit.

Registered Dietician Nutritionist (RDN): A professional who has graduated with a degree in nutrition and dietetics. They give advice on therapeutic nutrition, provide the public with nutrition education and work with other healthcare professionals in both hospital and community settings.

Nutritionist: Similar to a dietician (see above), although they are not necessarily certified as an RDN.

Case Manager: A coordinator who helps to plan and evaluate your care in order for you to have the most effective PH treatment. For example, a case manager may help you find programs to help cover the cost of your PH medications, or he or she may facilitate a referral to a PH specialist. The case manager is often a nurse and may work for either your insurance company or PH team.

Social Worker: A professional who has graduated with a degree in social work. They work to provide social services to clients. These services may include community resources, counseling, emotional support, etc.

Depending on your specific needs, your healthcare team may consist of some or all of the above professionals. Each plays a different role, and together they create a network of support. Don’t be afraid to ask your team about their contribution to your care.

By Jill Jacobs, RN, MSN, CHFN, Outpatient Nurse Coordinator, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and Danielle Mitchel, former PHA Medical Services Intern

This article first appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of Pathlight.