Spirometry ruled out for blanket COPD screening

Spirometry is unsuitable for COPD screening, say US experts.

The US Preventive Services Task Force, a panel of primary care experts, argues that screening for COPD using spirometry has no net benefit in healthy adults without self-recognised respiratory symptoms.

'Because spirometry is used as a confirmatory test as well as a screening test for COPD, no gold standard exists for comparison to provide precise estimates of sensitivity and specificity,' they state.

The time and cost of performing spirometry, along with the anxiety caused by the number of false-positive results, and the adverse effects of inappropriately prescribed medication, are likely to outweigh any benefits of COPD screening.

The findings raise concerns over the feasibility of screening for chronic respiratory conditions, pledged by prime minister Gordon Brown in January.

Dr John Haughney, president of the International Primary Care Respiratory Group and a GP in Glasgow, said: 'Blanket COPD screening using spirometry is not a good use of time or money. Instead, we should target at-risk patients such as smokers.'

sanjay.tanday@haymarket.com

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