Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a common chronic respiratory disease responsible for significant morbidity and mortality. Population-based health administrative databases provide a powerful and unbiased way of studying COPD in the population, however, their ability to accurately identify patients with this disease must first be confirmed. The objective was to validate population-based health administrative definitions of COPD. Previously abstracted medical records of adults over the age of 35 randomly selected from primary care practices in Ontario, Canada were reviewed by an expert panel to establish if an individual did or did not have a diagnosis of COPD. These reference designations were then linked to each individual's respective health administrative database record and compared with predefine health administrative data definitions of COPD. Concepts of diagnostic test evaluation were used to calculate and compare their test characteristics. The most sensitive health administrative definition of COPD was 1 or more ambulatory claims and/or 1 or more hospitalizations for COPD that yielded a sensitivity of 85.0% (95% confidence interval 77.0 to 91.0) and a specificity of 78.4% (95% confidence interval 73.6 to 82.7). As number of ambulatory claims in the definition increased, sensitivity decreased and specificity increased. Individuals with COPD can be accurately identified in health administrative data, and therefore it may be used to create an unbiased population cohort for surveillance and research. This offers a powerful means of generating evidence to inform strategies that optimize the prevention and management of COPD.