Challenges Faced by Rural Primary Care Providers When Caring for COPD Patients in the Western United States

Chronic Obstr Pulm Dis. 2021 Jul 28;8(3):336-349. doi: 10.15326/jcopdf.2021.0215.


Rationale: Rural chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients have worse outcomes and higher mortality compared with urban patients. Reasons for these disparities likely include challenges to delivery of care that have not been explored.

Objective: To determine challenges faced by rural primary care providers when caring for COPD patients.

Methods: Rural primary care providers in 7 primarily western states were asked about barriers they experienced when caring for COPD patients.

Results: A total of 71 rural primary care medical providers completed the survey, of which 51% were physicians and 49% were advanced practice providers (APPs). A total of 61% used Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease or American Thoracic Society/European Respiratory Society guidelines as an assessment and treatment resource. The presence of multiple chronic conditions and patient failure to recognize and report symptoms were the greatest barriers to diagnose COPD. A total of 89% of providers used spirometry to diagnose COPD, but only 62% were satisfied with access to spirometry. Despite recommendations, 41% of providers never test for alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency. A total of 87% were comfortable with their ability to assess symptoms, but only 11% used a guideline-recommended assessment tool. Although most providers were satisfied with their ability to treat symptoms and exacerbations, only 66% were content with their ability to prevent exacerbations. Fewer providers were happy with their access to pulmonologists (55%) or pulmonary rehabilitation (37%). Subgroup analyses revealed differences based on provider type (APP versus physician) and location (Colorado and Kansas versus other states), but not on population or practice size.

Conclusions: Rural providers face significant challenges when caring for COPD patients that should be targeted in future interventions to improve COPD outcomes.

Keywords: COPD Assessment Test; guidelines; health care delivery; primary care; symptom assessment.