COPD Patients Face Roadblocks to Treatment, According To Experts’ Report

Patricia Inácio, PhD avatar

by Patricia Inácio, PhD |

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Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is currently the third leading cause of death in the United States.

But while significant scientific progress is being made, COPD patients face serious challenges when it comes to treatment access, particularly because  treatments costs are high and hospitals have not yet reached recommended standards for COPD care.

The startling opinions, summarized in the report “Meeting the challenge of COPD care delivery in the USA: a multiprovider perspective,” were presented at the American Thoracic Society (ATS) conference in San Francisco. The report was published in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine journal.

Twenty-eight leading U.S. experts in the field of respiratory health wrote the report after careful concideration of experiences from patients, caregivers, and medical professionals; and representatives of health systems, insurance companies, and pharmaceutical companies. All spoke honestly about the challenges faced by COPD patients and how problems could be addressed.

Dr. MeiLan K. Han, the study’s lead author from the University of Michigan, said in a press  that the report “reveals a real patchwork of care for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.”

Han said the disease disproportionately affects society’s most vulnerable people because they lack access to basic medicines that could improve symptoms and quality of life issues.

“As a physician, I can discuss best treatments with my patients, only to later find out it isn’t covered by their insurance, or the co-pay is simply too high. This report aims to move us from debating what ideal care could look like, back to a discussion of what patients are actually facing on a day-to-day basis,” Han said.

Authors noted that patients may be confronted with co-payments of $75 or more per drug. This leads to breaks in treatment, with patients skipping days, not taking full dosages, or not refilling prescriptions.

COPD patients report that only half of medication doses are taken as prescribed. In contrast, patients with other chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease, report taking three-quarters of medication doses correctly.

While COPD patients frequently describe pulmonary rehabilitation as the most helpful intervention,  access is seriously limited. The lack of generic inhalers licenced for use in the U.S. was also mentioned as a problem for COPD patients.

Authors wrapped up the report by stressing that better education for patients and physicians is necessary to improve diagnosis and treatment. Additionally, they called for coordinated action among insurers, the pharmaceutical industry, and physicians in order to reduce patient financial burden.

The authors maintain that more effort is needed to improve health conditions for COPD patients and ultimately reduce healthcare spending nationwide.