Spirometry gets its due

Monday, May 31, 2004

NORTHBROOK, Ill. - By using spirometry, the gold standard for diagnosing COPD, primary care physicians could nearly double the number of people “known” to have the disease, according to a study published in the April issue of Chest.

The study, conducted by Katholieke University in Belgium, confirmed in “a spectacular way” that if primary care physicians work spirometry into their routine practices they can diagnose mild to moderate cases of COPD that otherwise would have gone undetected, said Dr. Tom Petty, a pioneer in the field of home respiratory therapy.

COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, killing more than 117,000 Americans each year

Currently, only about one-third of primary care physicians use spirometry. For the most part, primary care doctors are either too busy to bother with the test or feel it’s complicated and better left to pulmonologists. Many pulmonologists feel they can diagnose COPD without spirometry, which is nonsense, Petty said.

“I’ve tried it myself, and I can’t do it,” Petty said. “I was part of a study that says the physical examination does not tell you about mild or moderate COPD. It’s just like high blood pressure - in the early stages of the disease, you have no symptoms.”

Fortunately, the use of spirometry to detect COPD is on the rise, Petty said. The industry realizes COPD represents a huge market and that spirometry offers one of the best ways to identify potential oxygen patients. Numerous educational and consumer groups now stress early detection. In some states, third-party payers won’t approve treatment for COPD until the patient has had a spirometry test, Petty said.

“What you are seeing is at long last a lot of light shined on spirometry,” he said.