Lung Disease Testing in Pharmacies a Winner: Research

COPD

A pharmacy-run service to test for the lung condition COPD would benefit hundreds of Australians, especially those in rural areas, new research suggests.

The Woolcock Institute of Medical Research in Sydney ran a six-month service across 21 community pharmacies in NSW to check the feasibility of screening for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, using microspirometry.

The results, published in the International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, show 10 per cent of those tested in pharmacies were given a diagnosis of COPD after a doctor’s referral. A further five per cent were diagnosed with another medical condition.

Although only half of all screened patients live in regional areas, 93 per cent of those diagnosed with COPD were from regional areas, suggesting those living rurally would benefit most from the service. The study was carried out by a PhD student working at the Woolcock, Mariam Fathima.

Woolcock Executive Director, Professor Carol Armour, said rolling the service out across pharmacies nationwide would allow hundreds of people to benefit from COPD diagnosis and treatment. “COPD sufferers are often troubled by shortness of breath and a troublesome cough, but numerous treatments are available to help make life more bearable,” Professor Armour explains. “Getting that diagnosis is vital so we can get these patients onto treatment sooner, and start boosting their quality of life.  We’ve proven a pharmacy-run service would be a very effective means of making that happen.”

The study involved pharmacists trained in COPD case finding, including lung function testing, who invited patients aged 35 years and over with a history of smoking and/or respiratory symptoms to participate. High-risk patients were identified via a COPD risk assessment questionnaire. Those with concerning lung function were referred to their GP for further assessment and diagnosis.

In all, 157 patients did the lung function test and 61 (39 per cent) were referred to their GP.  A total of 15 (10 per cent) patients were diagnosed with COPD. Another eight (5 per cent) patients were diagnosed with other medical conditions and 87 per cent of these were started on treatment.

COPD is a lung illness most commonly triggered by smoking. The disease causes lung damage which then makes it difficult to breathe. 

COPD in Australia

  • COPD affects one in 13 Australians aged 40 and over. Rates are higher in men
  • Sufferers struggle to breathe deeply and have a persistent mucousy cough
  • Smoking is the primary cause but other triggers include tuberculosis, air pollution and occupational exposure in workplaces such as mines
  • COPD is responsible for about 60,000 hospitalisations annually 
  • The condition costs Australia about $950m in direct health costs each year, accounting for 1.3 per cent of all healthcare expenditure
  • A Woolcock feasibility study confirms COPD can be effectively tested in a pharmacy setting. Of those tested by pharmacists, 15 per cent went on to get a diagnosis of COPD or another medical condition by their doctor

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