D3. Self-management

Patients may benefit from self-management support [evidence level I, strong recommendation]

A distinction can be made between ‘self-management’ and ‘self-management support’. ‘Self-management’ is a normal part of daily living and involves the actions individuals take for themselves and their families to stay healthy and to care for minor, acute and long-term conditions. ‘Self-management support’ is the facility that healthcare and social-care services provide to enable individuals to take better care of themselves. The onus is on delivering training for self-management skills to individuals through a range of interventions (Osborne 2008).

A number of systematic reviews have been undertaken to evaluate the effect of self-management in COPD (See Figure 5 for abbreviated table and Appendix 6 for full table).  Whilst these have consistently resulted in improvements to quality of life, there have been conflicting findings in terms of their effect on healthcare utilisation (Jolly 2016, Jonkman 2016a, Jonkman 2016b, Majothi 2015, Zwerink 2016).

A Cochrane review found self-management interventions were associated with reduced probability of respiratory-related but not all-cause hospitalisation, all-cause mortality, dyspnoea or exacerbation rate (Lenferink 2017). However, exploratory analysis showed a small but significantly increased respiratory-related mortality. The differences may be related to differences in the study populations, study context and extent of self-management support provided. Earlier reviews have found reductions in both respiratory-related, ED and all-cause hospitalisations (Jonkman 2016b) as well as improved dyspnoea (Zwerink 2014), a reduction in urgent health care utilisation and improved exercise capacity measured by the 6MWD (Cannon 2016). However, reviews have also reported no differences in 6MWD, anxiety and depression, hospital admissions and mortality (Majothi 2015, Zwerink 2014, Cannon 2016, Jolly 2016, Jonkman 2016b). These systematic reviews should be interpreted with caution due to the methodological weaknesses of the studies and heterogeneity of the interventions and outcome measures.

The high degree of heterogeneity within interventions and study designs limits the ability to analyse which characteristics of self-management programs are associated with the most significant improvements.  However, a meta regression review of complex interventions identified that general education, exercise and relaxation therapy components contributed to reduced use of urgent healthcare (Dickens 2014) [evidence level I]. Additionally, Jonkman et al (Jonkman 2016a) demonstrated that intervention duration, regardless of composition, displayed the strongest associated with reduction in all cause hospitalisations in COPD patients.  Newham et al. identified that interventions targeting mental health were the most effective in improving HRQoL and reducing ED visits (Newham 2017).

In 2018, Aboumatar et al reported a RCT that recruited patients admitted to hospital with an acute exacerbation of COPD, or patients who had a previous diagnosis of COPD who were hospitalised and were receiving treatment for an increase in COPD symptoms (Aboumatar 2018).  Patients (n=240) were randomised to a three month intervention that involved 1. A transition support aimed at preparing patients and caregivers for discharge and ensuring they understood the post discharge plan of care, 2. individualised COPD self-management support to help patients take medications correctly, recognise exacerbations signs and follow action plans, practice breathing exercises and energy conservation techniques, maintain an active lifestyle, seek help as needed, and stop smoking, and 3. facilitated access to community programs and treatment services. The intervention was delivered by COPD nurses. Usual care involved a general transition coach to follow the patient for 30 days after discharge, with a focus on adherence to the discharge plan, and connecting to outpatient care. The intervention resulted in fewer exacerbations at 6 months compared to usual care (difference, 0.68 (95% CI 0.22 to 1.15); P=0.004) and improvement in health status (difference −6.97 (95% CI −14.05 to 0.12); P=0.05).

COPD self-management programs overwhelmingly lead to improved health-related quality of life, with reduced exacerbations being a positive outcome of many studies. However, due to the heterogeneity of the study designs, setting and outcomes, we are unable to make recommendations regarding the essential elements of a COPD self-management program.

Written Action Plans

The concept of written action plans for patients with COPD is derived from their success in asthma management indicating doses and medications to take for maintenance therapy and for exacerbations. Instructions for crises are often also included. Lung Foundation Australia has developed a COPD Action Plan which can be downloaded from https://lungfoundation.com.au/resources/?user_category=32&search=copd%20action%20plan. The Action Plan should be completed by the clinician and patient together and guides the patient in recognising when their symptoms change and what action they should take.

A systematic review by Howcroft et al. reported that supported use of COPD exacerbation action plans with a single short educational component reduced ED visits and hospital admissions (Howcroft 2016). The number needed to treat to reduce one hospital admission was 19. Studies that included an exercise program and longer education sessions were not included in this review. A subsequent RCT not included in this review confirmed a reduction in ED visits in patients who utilised an action plan  (Zwerink 2016).