Patients with COPD may need more education and better dialogue with their physicians to effectively manage the disease and potentially life-threatening exacerbations, according to key findings from the new, two-part national COPE (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Experience) Survey initiative released today by the COPD Foundation (COPDF). 

While COPD exacerbations are a leading cause of hospitalization in the United States, nearly two-thirds (62%) of COPD patients surveyed admitted to not knowing much about them – and an additional 16% did not know what an exacerbation was at all, according to the survey, which polled 1,102 Americans ages 40 and over who suffer from COPD.

In addition, 60% of COPD patients surveyed reported that they did not have an action plan for dealing with a flare-up.

By contrast, the COPE survey targeting physicians who treat COPD reported that 98% of surveyed physicians who treat COPD say they discuss exacerbations with patients, and 92% say they establish action plans.

This suggests an opportunity to improve care through more productive, meaningful communication between COPD patients and their physicians, according to the COPDF.

“Exacerbations can have a devastating impact on overall health, and they can actually cause COPD to progress even faster and reduce lung function,” says Scott Cerreta, director of Education, COPD Foundation. “Developing an action plan with instructions to help patients – and their caregivers – identify warning signs and what steps to take if an exacerbation should occur is a critical part of managing COPD.”

Early detection and proper diagnosis of COPD are also critical to managing the disease and slowing its progression, yet surveyed COPD patients indicated that they experienced symptoms of the disease for an average of two years and nine months prior to being diagnosed. Furthermore, surveyed physicians reported that 39% of their patients had reached a “severe” or “very severe” disease state by the time of diagnosis – results which indicate there may be an opportunity for earlier detection and intervention.

Despite the importance of proper diagnosis of COPD severity, less than half (49%) of physicians surveyed reported that they always perform spirometry – a diagnostic tool that measures lung function – to confirm a diagnosis.

Additionally, the survey revealed that only 12% of COPD patients consider their condition to be “completely controlled” and indicated that COPD disrupts patients’ ability to complete normal daily activities such as exercising (87%), climbing stairs (86%), and walking (77%).

Yet surprisingly, 82% of patients who have a COPD treatment regimen said they are satisfied with it, suggesting that many may be unaware that more could be done.

“COPD can be treated – but it’s crucial for doctors to diagnose it early and for patients to follow the appropriate therapeutic strategies to improve symptoms, increase activity, and reduce the chances of exacerbations,” said MeiLan Han, MD, MS, associate professor of Medicine in the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care at the University of Michigan. “It’s important that physicians develop an individualized approach that works best for each patient.”