Background: The increasing prevalence and impact of obstructive lung diseases and new insights, reflected in clinical guidelines, have led to concerns about the diagnosis and therapy of asthma and COPD in primary care. In Germany diagnoses written in medical records are used for reimbursement, which may influence physicians' documentation behaviour. For that reason it is unclear to what respect ICD-10 codes reflect the real problems of the patients in general practice. The aim of this study was to assess the appropriateness of the recorded diagnoses and to determine what diagnostic information is used to guide medical treatment.
Methods: All patients with lower airway symptoms (n = 857) who had attended six general practices between January and June 2003 were included into this cross sectional observational study. Patients were selected from the computerised medical record systems, focusing on ICD-10-codes concerning lower airway diseases (J20-J22, J40-J47, J98 and R05). The performed diagnostic procedures and actual medication for each identified patient were extracted manually. Then we examined the associations between recorded diagnoses, diagnostic procedures and prescribed treatment for asthma and COPD in general practice.
Results: Spirometry was used in 30% of the patients with a recorded diagnosis of asthma and in 58% of the patients with a recorded diagnosis of COPD. Logistic regression analysis showed an improved use of spirometry when inhaled corticosteroids were prescribed for asthma (OR = 5.2; CI 2.9-9.2) or COPD (OR = 4.7; CI 2.0-10.6). Spirometry was also used more often when sympathomimetics were prescribed (asthma: OR = 2.3; CI 1.2-4.2; COPD: OR = 4.1; CI 1.8-9.4).
Conclusions: This study revealed that spirometry was used more often when corticosteroids or sympathomimetics were prescribed. The findings suggest that treatment was based on diagnostic test results rather than on recorded diagnoses. The documented ICD-10 codes may not always reflect the real status of the patients. Thus medical care for asthma and COPD in general practice may be better than initially found on the basis of recorded diagnoses, although further improvement of practice patterns in asthma and COPD is still necessary.