June 30, 2023

Expanding Respiratory Services: Advances in Pulmonary Function Testing Improves Patients’ Access to Care

June 30, 2023

Cooley Dickinson’s respiratory therapists can now test more patients with respiratory problems more quickly and comfortably thanks to new, advanced technology to diagnose lung function.

With the addition of a new machine, we now offer adults and children “the gold standard for getting lung volumes,” said Respiratory Therapist Colleen Sarno.

Cooley Dickinson Hospital has offered pulmonary function tests, or PFTs, since the early 2000s. Recently, Respiratory Therapy Manager Valerie Rose got approval to purchase a second, more advanced body plethysmography machine to help manage the increasing need for lung testing.

An added bonus: the machine also provides expanded testing capabilities, including more accurate results, and features a larger booth for those patients who need to sit inside of the enclosed space.

“We are thrilled to have this new equipment here at Cooley. And we are also so thankful to everyone who helped make it happen – Facilities, IT, Biomed, Purchasing,” said Rose. “There were so many moving parts, but everyone worked well together to get this new equipment up and running for patients.”

Respiratory Therapist Colleen Sarno demoing Cooley's new body plethysmography machine on a seated patient.Sarno, and respiratory therapy colleague Heather Hammond refer to the new machine the “body box.” The body box joins a second machine, which the hospital installed more than twenty years ago, that is also used for pulmonary function testing. The body box has more advanced technology and will soon interface with Epic, which the vintage machine is not able to do. Until then, reports summarizing patients’ lung tests are scanned to the referring providers.

“Earlier this year we had a backlog of patients,” recalled Rose “The body box will now help us test more patients more quickly and comfortably.”

Rose said the respiratory therapists are making a dent in the backlog of patient appointments.

“Lately, we are performing up to 60 PFTs per week,” Hammond added. Previously, their ability to schedule patients was hampered by using the one, older machine.

With the body box, there are three different lung function tests that can be performed, and one of those tests is done twice. Not every patient needs all three tests, but many do. Sarno explained that the tests measure how well patients’ lungs are working. Test results determine if someone has an obstructive disease such as COPD, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or a restrictive disease, such as pulmonary fibrosis, or thickness or scarring of the lungs.

“From there, a provider can determine the best course of treatment for each patient,” she said.

As the patient breathes, therapists can see a patient’s baseline breathing. “We can see when someone takes a big breath and exhales – it shows the patient’s progress on the computer screen – and if they still have air left in their lungs,” added Hammond.

“There is a lot of cheerleading in this job,” Rose said, noting the therapists often coach the patients to push out the breath as much as possible, as their effort is what is being tested. The machine is slightly larger, so it is more comfortable to sit inside of the body box.

Of the new set up, Hammond said patients can see and hear the therapists better.  “We are so excited it’s here. It is so much easier for our patients; we have tested the machine ourselves as part of our training, so we know first-hand.”

Added Rose, “we are fully staffed and ready to serve the patients.”



About Cooley Dickinson Hospital

Cooley Dickinson Hospital (cooleydickinson.org) is a not-for-profit, acute care hospital that offers community-based programs and services in Northampton, Massachusetts. A member of the Mass General Brigham System, Cooley Dickinson has been advancing the health of people in the Pioneer Valley since 1886. The organization includes community-based primary care and specialty practices in Hampshire and Southern Franklin counties, and a VNA & Hospice program that provides home health and hospice nursing and rehabilitation visits. We are committed to serving our patients and communities with exceptional, compassionate, and personalized care.