A retrospective study of almost 39,000 patients shows that opportunities to diagnose chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) at an earlier stage are frequently being missed in both primary and secondary care in the U.K.
The findings, published online on 13 February in the Lancet Respiratory Medicine, found that the missed COPD diagnoses occurred in up to 85% of people.
Study author Dr. Rupert Jones from Plymouth University Peninsula said the substantial numbers of patients misdiagnosed and underdiagnosed is a cause for concern. Early diagnosis of COPD can lead to more effective treatment and reduce lung damage and improve quality of life and life expectancy.
The U.K. Department of Health estimates that around 2.2 million people with COPD in the nation are undiagnosed, and earlier diagnosis and treatment could save the National Health Service (NHS) more than 1 billion euros over 10 years.
Researchers identified 38,859 patients age 40 or older who had received a COPD diagnosis between 1990 and 2009 and for whom data was available for at least two years before and one year after diagnosis.
Results showed that in the five years before diagnosis, 85% of patients had visited their general practitioner or a secondary care clinic at least once with lower-respiratory symptoms.
Those consultations, the study noted, represented missed opportunities to further test patients for COPD. Opportunities for diagnosis were missed in 58% of patients in the six to 10 years before diagnosis and 42% in the 11 to 15 years before diagnosis.