Background: Pulmonary rehabilitation seems to be an effective intervention in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. We undertook a randomised controlled trial to assess the effect of outpatient pulmonary rehabilitation on use of health care and patients' wellbeing over 1 year.
Methods: 200 patients with disabling chronic lung disease (the majority with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) were randomly assigned a 6-week multidisciplinary rehabilitation programme (18 visits) or standard medical management. Use of health services was assessed from hospital and general-practice records. Analysis was by intention to treat.
Findings: There was no difference between the rehabilitation (n=99) and control (n=101) groups in the number of patients admitted to hospital (40 vs 41) but the number of days these patients spent in hospital differed significantly (mean 10.4 [SD 9.7] vs 21.0 [20.7], p=0.022). The rehabilitation group had more primary-care consultations at the general-practitioner's premises than did the control group (8.6 [6.8] vs 7.3 [8.3], p=0.033) but fewer primary-care home visits (1.5 [2.8] vs 2.8 [4.6], p=0.037). Compared with control, the rehabilitation group also showed greater improvements in walking ability and in general and disease-specific health status.
Interpretation: For patients chronically disabled by obstructive pulmonary disease, an intensive, multidisciplinary, outpatient programme of rehabilitation is an effective intervention, in the short term and the long term, that decreases use of health services.