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Grant awarded for research into COPD self-management education

Professor Nick Zwar, Executive Dean of Health Sciences and Medicine, has been awarded a $977,628 medical research grant for COPD self-management research. PICTURE: Cavan Flynn

Globally an estimated three million people die from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) each year. For Professor Nick Zwar, Executive Dean of Health Sciences and Medicine at Bond University, it is a mortality rate far too high.

Prof Zwar has been awarded $977,628 from the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) in support of his research into COPD self-management education. COPD is a progressive lung disease that makes breathing difficult.  

The most significant risk factors for COPD are cigarette smoking, air pollution, and other respiratory conditions such as asthma. Statistics show that COPD places a considerable burden on the Australian health system costing an estimated $8 billion per year in health and hospital spending.

Having recognised the impact of COPD on patients and healthcare systems, Prof Zwar is encouraging people with COPD to take an active role in their treatment.

“There’s been evidence from a number of studies that if people can better self-manage their COPD, they have less admissions to hospital and better quality of life,” he said.

“Some things people might need to do to maximise their lung health might be to stop smoking if they are a smoker, try to get exercise, use their inhalers correctly, and ensure they are vaccinated against influenza and pneumonia.”

The funding from this research grant will allow Prof Zwar to investigate a current barrier for COPD patients: the recognition of other health conditions that can co-exist with the disease.

“If our idea is right and this self-management approach works better than other methods, then it may influence how we educate and support people to be involved in their own long-term illness,” he said.

“It would be less disease-focused and more holistic in understanding people.

“There are other conditions they have to navigate and supporting them in a way that recognises that, instead of ignoring it, might be more effective.”

Following Prof Zwar and colleagues’ successful pilot program, the research team will be inviting 46 general practices to participate in the study.

By studying the effects of self-management education, Prof Zwar is hopeful that this new research will change the way doctors treat their patients with COPD.

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