Somerset GP Dr Steve Holmes, chairman of the Somerset Area Respiratory Clinical Network, argues that diagnosis rates must improve to reduce healthcare costs.
COPD accounts for one in eight emergency hospital admissions. More than 940,000 people have been diagnosed with COPD but estimates suggest a further two million people may have the disease but be undiagnosed.
Speaking at a Westminster Health Forum conference in London last week, Dr Holmes said: 'COPD is a huge financial burden on the NHS. There is great variation in its detection and treatment, which we need to improve and enhance. We need to make inroads into undiagnosed patients.'
Dr Louise Restrick, respiratory team lead at the Whittington Hospital in north London, said improved care would reduce hospital admissions.
'People who exacerbate have more rapid acceleration of disease than those who do not,' she said.
'One third of patients admitted to the Whittington with COPD for the first time already have severe disease.'
Dr Holmes said that better surveillance of patients was essential to early detection.
Research is underway to test the effectiveness of questionnaires and FEV1 microspirometry in detecting COPD in people at risk of the disease in general practice, he added.
Dr Holmes said: 'The object of diagnosing COPD early is to work on helping smoking cessation, improving quality of life and reducing the number of exacerbations which potentially impact on a patient's life.'