Managing exacerbations of COPD: room for improvement.Ir Med J 2004; 97(4):108-10IM
Acute exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (AECOPD) are a major cause of hospital admissions. Because of the consequent morbidity, mortality and burden on hospital resources, COPD management guidelines have been formulated. We reviewed 62 consecutive patients with AECOPD admitted from September 1st to December 18th 2000 in St. Vincents University Hospital, Ireland, including 3 months follow-up data, to evaluate the quality of care and in particular to assess the care of such patients by respiratory and non-respiratory physicians. There was a frequent failure to objectively confirm the diagnosis of COPD by spirometry (completed in 39 of the 51 patients who, at admission, had been previously labelled with COPD (76%), and in 53 out of 62 patients (85%) at the end of the study period), or to estimate severity by quantifying the FEV1 as a percentage of the normal predicted range (estimated in only 21 of the 39 patients who had spirometry previously performed (53%)). Those patients managed with input from respiratory physicians were more likely to have their diagnosis of COPD confirmed with spirometry (p < 0.05). They were also more likely to have out-patient follow-up arranged at discharge (p < 0.05). There was a trend towards the more frequent prescribing of oxygen to hypoxic patients in "respiratory" than in "non-respiratory" managed cases (p = 0.182) and a shorter hospital stay (0.1 < p < 0.5). 4 out of 11 severely hypoxaemic patients at admission (PO2 < 7.3kPa) were not screened at discharge for possible long term oxygen therapy (36%). 20 patients received combination antibiotic therapy with no infiltrate on CXR (32%). Pulmonary rehabilitation was offered to 12 patients (19%). 5 out of 18 current smokers had documented smoking cessation advice (28%) and none received smoking cessation pharmacotherapy. Finally we noted that the Hospital In-Patient Enquiry (HIPE) data and casualty department admission books were frequently misleading or medical records unlocatable (in 30 out of 92 cases (33%)). We conclude that the management of AECOPD at St. Vincent's University Hospital is frequently suboptimal, and may be managed better with respiratory physician involvement. In particular, there could be more frequent spirometric confirmation of the diagnosis of COPD, better screening for long term oxygen therapy and more conservative use of antibiotics. Audit is complicated by difficulty accessing relevant data.