Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, often exists undiagnosed and goes undertreated. Perhaps that’s why it continues to be the third leading cause of death in the United States. But as COPD Awareness Month reminds us, limited screening opportunities make detecting COPD a challenge. And for those patients who are aware of their disease, out-of-pocket expenses may stand between them and the medication they need.
Though 12 million Americans don’t know they have COPD, the United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends that patients forego screening. Last year the task force evaluated the use of in-office questionnaires along with spirometry, a technique to measure patients’ breathing capacity. The group found no “net benefit” to the combined techniques, though it did not evaluate the use of questionnaires alone.
Meanwhile, the estimated 11 million Americans living with COPD face the challenge of getting the medications and treatment they need. A May 2016 report from the Lancet Respiratory Medicine Commission describes how high co-pays and restrictive formularies make it difficult for COPD patients to treat their condition.
The report also revealed that hospitals may not follow recommended guidelines for COPD or make its treatment a priority. One in every five COPD patients is readmitted to the hospital within a month of being discharged.
For more on access to care for COPD and other respiratory conditions, read “Improving Access to Respiratory Care.”