Objective: Although the prevalence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) has increased among women, it is still considered a disease that mainly affects men. This study aimed to identify the diagnostic attitudes of primary care physicians toward patients with COPD according to gender and spirometric results.
Methods: A representative sample of 839 primary care physicians participated in the study. Each physician dealt with 1 of 8 hypothetical cases based on a patient diagnosed with COPD. In half the cases, the physician was told the patient was a man. The other half of the physicians were told the same patient was a woman. After presentation of the medical history and results of physical examination, the physicians were asked to state a probable diagnosis and indicate the diagnostic tests that were necessary. They were then told the results of spirometry, which indicated obstruction ranging from moderate to severe. Negative results of bronchodilator tests and oral corticosteroid tests were then communicated.
Results: COPD was more likely to be the preliminary diagnosis for male patients than for females (odds ratio [OR], 1.55; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.15-2.1). This gender bias disappeared once the physicians were shown the abnormal results of spirometry. Patients with severe obstruction were more likely to be diagnosed with COPD than those with moderate obstruction (OR, 1.5; 95% CI, 1.08-2.09).
Conclusions: There is gender bias in the diagnosis of COPD. Patients with moderate obstruction are often believed not to have COPD. These biases may compromise the early diagnosis of the disease in a group of patients with ever increasing risk.