12 February, 2018

A new study led by researchers from Monash University’s Centre for Medicine Use and Safety suggests that one of Australia’s leading causes of death is being systematically misdiagnosed.

The study undertaken in 41 Melbourne general practices found that, based on spirometry, one third of participants with a history of COPD (91/245) were misdiagnosed as having the respiratory disease. 

This resulted in them receiving treatment for a disease they did not have, while their real underlying pulmonary condition, such as asthma, was not appropriately treated.

A further one in six participants (142/805) who had not been diagnosed with COPD in fact had the disease. These patients were potentially missing out on early treatment because of a failure to correctly diagnose their condition.

According to lead author, Dr Johnson George, this latter subset of people not diagnosed with COPD but actually having the disease is concerning.

The authors, who also included researchers from UNSW, the University of Wollongong, La Trobe University, the Austin and Alfred Hospitals, the University of Newcastle, the Nossal Institute for Global Health and the Lung Foundation Australia, instead used a much cheaper and simpler handheld screening device recommended by the Lung Foundation. 

“These devices can be used by the practice nurse as well as the GP, to ensure that more patients with respiratory symptoms, and more smokers, are tested regularly and accurately for COPD case finding,” Dr George said. 

“This means that the more people who are diagnosed early with COPD, the earlier we can intervene with their smoking habits and lifestyle and the fewer Australians we will have progressing to serious lung disease,” he said.