Use of spirometry in the diagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and efforts to improve quality of care

Transl Res. 2009 Sep;154(3):103-10. doi: 10.1016/j.trsl.2009.06.003. Epub 2009 Jul 8.


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is characterized by airflow limitation that is not fully reversible. In a patient presenting with respiratory symptoms and risk factors, the recommendation is to perform spirometry to determine the presence of airflow obstruction. However, only about a third of patients with a diagnosis of COPD have spirometry along with their diagnosis, although studies have shown that history and physical examination alone are neither sensitive nor specific for diagnosing COPD. Thus, in current practice, many health care providers continue to diagnose and manage COPD without an accurate diagnosis and assessment of severity based on spirometry. This can contribute to inconsistent care and outcomes, as evidenced by findings of variation in spirometry use and acute exacerbation rates of COPD across geographic regions. As there is increasing evidence that pharmacotherapy for COPD has associated risks, including poor cardiovascular outcomes and pneumonia, it is pertinent to obtain an accurate diagnosis to determine appropriate risk-benefit ratios. Previous studies have shown that spirometry has an impact on COPD management; however, there seem to be barriers to the use of spirometry at the patient, provider, and health system level. Innovative quality improvement approaches, such as the application of the various components of the Chronic Care Model, could improve spirometry use in COPD. Only with accurate diagnosis can appropriate management and evidence-based treatment strategies be applied in practice. Therefore, it is important that we continue efforts to increase the use of spirometry in the diagnosis of COPD.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Humans
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / diagnosis*
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / epidemiology
  • Pulmonary Medicine / instrumentation*
  • Pulmonary Medicine / standards*
  • Quality of Health Care*
  • Risk Factors
  • Spirometry / statistics & numerical data*