Today, more people than ever are going online for their health information, and we want to make sure they can find trusted and accurate lung health information and resources. The American Lung Association offers online tools and resources on Lung.org to help those living with lung disease, their caregivers and those who want to learn more about lung health and healthy air. But sometimes, you just need someone to talk to, and our Lung HelpLine is here to lend an expert ear! We talked to a Lung HelpLine counselor Mark Courtney, who explains how our Lung HelpLine can be a real lifeline.
What exactly is the Lung HelpLine?
The Lung HelpLine is a resource from the Lung Association that helps people with specific medical questions or information needs connect with a health professional. We are nurses and respiratory therapists who help people with information and questions about the lungs, lung disease and lung health, as well as helping people quit tobacco. Our services are free, and you can call us by phone at 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872), submit a question or chat with us online.
What's your background and what led you to the Lung Association?
I started my medical career as a respiratory therapist in an acute care hospital about 33 years ago. I've actually been with the HelpLine from the beginning, joining the team in 1999. One of my instructors in college, Michael Mark, who is now Sr. Vice President of HelpLine Services, called to let me know about the HelpLine project. Michael Mark played a key role in developing the HelpLine.
Do your co-workers have similar backgrounds?
They're all registered nurses and registered respiratory therapists, with backgrounds in all types of patient care settings, including rehabilitation, education, acute care, emergency medicine, public health, neonatal care, home care and adult intensive care. Some staff members are addiction counselors who crossed over from drug and alcohol treatment programs to tobacco cessation, and we have staff who are bilingual (Spanish), allowing us to help even more people. Our translation service helps with more than 200 different languages as well.
What kind of questions do you most often get at the HelpLine?
The top questions are usually related to diseases like asthma, COPD, pulmonary fibrosis and lung cancer. We also get questions regarding tuberculosis and skin testing, indoor air quality, mold exposure and medication use. We talk to a lot of people who want to quit smoking. We counsel them directly, and also connect them with our cessation programs, like Freedom From Smoking®.
Have you gotten any unusual calls?
Since people can reach the HelpLine in a number of ways other than by phone, we tend to get a lot of international questions and requests. I was able to help someone in France make sense of an X-ray, even though they did not speak English and I don't speak French – our translation services really help assist with a variety of communities and nationalities.
What do you find most satisfying about working at the HelpLine?
I was helping a person from the Boston area find resources to help her with advanced stage lung cancer treatment, and one of the resources I found led her to participate in a clinical trial. The treatment she received from this trial was very positive and helped her continue to fight this terrible disease. I have talked to people with very rare disorders, and helped them find national resources and disease listing services to help better understand and treat them.
What else would you like us to know about the HelpLine?
Like most people I know, one reason I was drawn to healthcare is to help people. The reason I was drawn into respiratory medicine is the variety of patients I would see in a day. I could work with babies, young people and the elderly, and I really like the variety. The HelpLine allows me the ability to take the extra time to learn more about people that I would not normally have time to do in a busy hospital setting. The HelpLine allows me to help people, as well as learn more about lung diseases and the constantly changing field of medicine.