60 years of better lung health

Members of the current Respiratory Investigations Unit team

Members of the current Respiratory Investigations Unit team

The year 1963 was a year to remember. It was the year Beatlemania began, when push-button telephones were introduced, and when computer mouses were made.

It was also the year when Queensland’s first Respiratory Investigation Unit opened at The Prince Charles Hospital (TPCH).

Now 60, the Respiratory Investigation Unit (RIU) is responsible for delivering a high quality, respiratory science service offering patients a range of tests including spirometry, gas transfer, lung volumes and cardiopulmonary exercise.

Last year, RIU performed approximately 18,000 tests, 15 times the number performed in its first year when it recorded 1,169 tests.

As the state’s first unit of its type, RIU has been responsible for the introducting the Queensland’s first computerised lung function equipment and performing the first sleep investigations in the state, which led to the establishment of TPCH’s Sleep Disorders Centre. The unit was also the first site in Queensland to introduce histamine bronchoprovocation, a test used in asthma diagnosis.

Longstanding Director of TPCH’s Respiratory Investigation Unit Annette Dent said she has seen many advances in how patients are tested.

“When I first joined the unit in 1981, testing patients was a lot more labour intensive as everything had to be done manually. Patient data had to be collected and the results calculated using equations and a small portable accounts calculator,” Annette said.

“We used a spirometer to measure the maximum amount of air that a person can breathe out, a diffusion machine to measure the amount of oxygen that passes from a person’s lungs into their blood, and a lung volumes machine that measures the total size of a person’s lungs.

“We also had a locally built exercise system and a bike which was used to look at how well a person’s heart and lungs work during exercise.”

Although the same tests are done today, RIU’s team of six respiratory scientists now have access to state-of-the-art technology including desktop and portable spirometers, sophisticated gas diffusion and lung volume machines, and a metabolic cart linked to an exercise bike and treadmill to perform cardiopulmonary exercise tests – all linked to an electronic database.

“It means our team can provide a comprehensive service to patients with all types and acuity of lung and heart conditions,” Annette said.

For Annette, one of the most memorable times during her forty years with the Unit was when it tested children with cystic fibrosis.
“Back in the early days, children with cystic fibrosis had a poor prognosis and usually did not live beyond their teens,” she said.

“Over the years with improvements in treatment, I’ve had the privilege to still be testing patients I saw when they were children and are now adults – some with families of their own. It’s very rewarding.”

2023-11-30T16:55:04+10:0027 November 2023|
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