Background: Exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are a major cause of hospital admissions, but do not require intensive investigation or complex therapy. We investigated the suitability of home care for severe uncomplicated exacerbations.
Methods: Over 3.5 years we assessed 962 patients with exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease after referral to a hospital respiratory department by their family physicians. All patients had chest radiographs, oxygen-saturation or arterial-gas analysis, spirometry, and physical assessment. Unless admission was thought to be essential, patients were allowed home with a customised treatment package. Each patient was visited daily by a respiratory nurse who monitored progress and treatment compliance and provided education and reassurance.
Findings: 145 (15%) of 962 required admission at initial referral and 115 (12%) were admitted later. 653 (68%) patients were managed entirely at home and 49 (5%) were referred inappropriately. One patient died at home. All patients had severe disease with a mean forced expiratory volume in 1 s of 1.02 L and 395 (41%) had required hospital admission in the previous year.
Interpretation: After formal assessment in a hospital respiratory unit, many patients with exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease can be treated at home by respiratory nurses.