Use of spirometry in the diagnosis of COPD: a qualitative study in primary care

COPD. 2013 Aug;10(4):444-9. 
Authors: Joo MJ, Sharp LK, Au DH, Lee TA, Fitzgibbon ML.

Abstract guidelines that recommend spirometry to confirm airflow obstruction among patients with suspected COPD are not routinely followed. We conducted a qualitative study to identify attitudes and barriers of primary care physicians to performing spirometry for patients with possible COPD. We conducted four focus groups, each with three primary care physicians (PCPs) who practice in an urban, academic medical center. In general, PCPs believed that spirometry was not necessary to confirm the diagnosis of COPD. Compared to other co-morbid conditions, in a patient with a diagnosis of COPD without self-reported symptoms, COPD was not a priority during a clinic visit. This was in part due to the belief that there was lack of evidence that medication used in COPD lead to improved outcomes and that there was no point of care measure for COPD compared to other co-morbid conditions such as diabetes mellitus or hypertension. Health system barriers specific to spirometry use was not identified. In conclusion, in our sample of PCPs, there was skepticism that spirometry is warranted to diagnose and manage COPD. Availability of spirometry was not a perceived barrier. Our results explain, in part, why previous interventions to improve access to spirometry and diagnosis of COPD in primary care settings have been difficult to conduct and/or have had marginal success. Our findings strongly suggest that a first step toward increasing the use of spirometry among primary care physicians is to have them believe in its utility in the diagnosis of COPD.

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