Members of the Healthcare Team
While dealing with the diagnosis of ALS, patients and their families will interact with many health professionals, including doctors, nurses, social workers, therapists, and dietitians. The interdisciplinary ALS health care team offers a coordinated approach to patient care. The interdisciplinary team includes health professionals with a variety of specialties who meet regularly to discuss the care of their patients. It is important for patients to be familiar with and understand the roles of each member of the healthcare team.
A neurologist is a medical doctor who specializes in function and disorders of the nervous system, including brain, spinal column, and peripheral nervous system. Some neurologists, such as those in ALS Care teams, specialize in the care of patients with ALS and other similar diseases.
A medical pulmonologist is an internal medicine doctor who specializes in treatment of pulmonary, or lung diseases, with medical interventions such as medication, respiratory therapies and support. As an ALS patient, you may see a pulmonologist if you have pre-existing asthma, emphysema, or another lung disease. Patients who elect advanced respiratory life support may see the pulmonologist to evaluate and plan for this intervention.
Nurse or Nurse Practitioner
A nurse has a wide range of skills to carry out the treatment plan prescribed by the doctor. Some nurses specialize in neurology. Nurses are excellent resources to ask questions about treatment, get tips or assistance with care, and obtain support services or educational materials.
Nurse practitioners have advanced training and education that allows them to perform physical exams, diagnose problems, order tests and treatments, and prescribe medications.
The Assistive Technologist is a specialist in the use of technology to increase or improve functional capabilities, helping people with ALS to identify and use assistive devices. Devices may include computer access, communication technology, telecommunications, electronic aids to assist with daily living, and assistance with seating and mobility issues.
A dietitian is a healthcare professional trained in food, nutrition, biochemistry, and physiology. A dietitian can provide guidance regarding an appropriate diet for the patient. A dietitian can help choose foods that provide the appropriate amount of calories, vitamins, fats, and protein necessary during treatment. They can be essential resources in managing symptoms and side effects associated with a disease. Most hospitals have dietitians on staff to help patients with their dietary needs.
Social workers are professionally trained to assist and counsel patients and families about financial and community support issues. The role of the social worker is to provide resources regarding treatment, financial resources, transportation assistance, or home care.
Physical and Occupational Therapists
The role of the Physical and Occupational Therapists at the ALS clinic are to maximize mobility, daily task performance and comfort. This is achieved through patient and family education, activity adaptation, equipment prescription, exercise modification and stretching.
Speech Pathologists evaluate swallowing mechanisms and determine the most appropriate compensatory swallowing strategies and diet consistency to maximize swallowing function in people with swallowing difficulties. They also evaluate speech and voice production and determine the appropriateness of different compensatory speech strategies and communication devices to aid in communication, teaching patients and families in the most effective ways to communicate.
Mental Health Nurses and Nurse Counselors
A mental health nurse has received specialized education in psychology, psychiatry, and counseling. Some specialize in chronic illnesses, such as cancer. Mental health nurses treat patients through therapy and counseling sessions.
Questions to ask your healthcare team