Background: The Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) underlines that spirometry is the gold standard as the most reproducible, standardised, and objective way of measuring airflow limitation in the diagnosis and assessment of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). However, studies undertaken in different countries have suggested a widespread underuse of spirometry by general practitioners to establish the diagnosis of COPD. Precise estimates of the prevalence of physician-diagnosed COPD in Italy are not currently available. In collaboration with the Italian Academy of General practitioners (SIMG) we have investigated the degree of use of spirometry to establish the diagnosis of COPD in Italy.
Methods: A standardised questionnaire has been self-administered to a sample of 2425 Italian general practitioners (representing 5% of all the Italian doctors involved in general practice). They have been chosen to cover each of the Italian counties.
Results: The prevalence of physician-diagnosed COPD was found to be approximately 4%. However, 30% of general practitioners do not use spirometry to establish the diagnosis of COPD. The main reasons given for the failure to use spirometry are (i) that spirometry is not necessary for the diagnosis of COPD or (ii) there are logistical limitations to the access of the patients to lung function laboratories.
Conclusions: This data suggests that contrary to GOLD Guidelines, in Italy, as with other countries, spirometry is not always used in the diagnosis of COPD. There is a clear necessity for further education initiatives targeted to this group of physicians.