Background and objective: In COPD, hospital admissions and readmissions account for the majority of health-care costs. The aim of this prospective randomized controlled study was to determine if early pulmonary rehabilitation, commenced as an inpatient and continued after discharge, reduced acute health-care utilization.
Methods: Consecutive COPD patients (n = 397), admitted with an exacerbation, were screened: 228 satisfied the eligibility criteria, of whom 97 consented to randomization to rehabilitation or usual care. Both intention-to-treat and per-protocol analyses are reported with adherence being defined a priori as participation in at least 75% of rehabilitation sessions.
Results: The participants were elderly with severe impairment of pulmonary function, poor health-related quality of life and high COPD-related morbidity. The rehabilitation group demonstrated a 23% (95% CI: 11-36%) risk of readmission at 3 months, with attendees having a 16% (95% CI: 0-32%) risk compared with 32% (95% CI: 19-45%) for usual care. These differences were not significant. There were a total of 79 COPD-related readmission days (1.7 per patient, 95% CI: 0.6-2.7, P = 0.19) in the rehabilitation group, compared with 25 (1.3 per patient, 95% CI: 0-3.1, P = 0.17) for the attendees and 209 (4.2 per patient, 95% CI: 1.7-6.7) for usual care. The BMI, airflow obstruction, dyspnoea and exercise capacity index showed a non-significant trend to greater improvement among attendees compared with those receiving usual care (5.5 (2.3) and 5.6 (2.7) at baseline, improving to 3.7 (1.9) and 4.5 (2.5), respectively, at 3 months). No adverse effects were identified.
Conclusions: Early inpatient-outpatient rehabilitation for COPD patients admitted with an exacerbation was feasible and safe, and was associated with a non-significant trend towards reduced acute health-care utilization.