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    Misdiagnoses and mismanagement of COPD impacts health costs

    Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) remains a leading cause of morbidity and mortality in the U.S. and, as a result, rising healthcare costs.

    Physicians might think that undiagnosed COPD does not cost the healthcare system anything, but studies show that among COPD patients, utilization and costs for non-respiratory ailments are at least as great as those attributable to respiratory illness. Undiagnosed COPD has a substantial impact on healthcare costs and utilization, particularly for hospitalizations.

    National data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services show COPD is extremely costly, with the total costs from hospital admission and absenteeism is estimated at $36 billion annually, according to the latest data. Furthermore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states the national medical costs attributable to COPD and its consequences were estimated at $32 billion and total absenteeism costs were about $4 billion. Of the medical costs, about less than one quarter was paid for by private insurance, slightly more than half by Medicare and one-quarter by Medicaid.

    The CDC data suggest that national medical costs for COPD are projected to increase to $49 billion in 2020. Rising costs are leading payers to work with healthcare providers and health systems to improve care coordination for patients with chronic diseases, including COPD.

    However, the actual cost could be even higher than these estimates as people with COPD often have other comorbidities and hospital treatment costs that are typically difficult to attribute specifically to a particular disease. A substantial proportion of COPD patients remain undiagnosed and have a higher risk of mortality than those without airflow obstruction.

    “I think it is difficult to completely quantify the economic impact of COPD misdiagnosis, but data suggest that undiagnosed COPD has a significant impact on healthcare costs. We know that appropriate therapy can help reduce the frequency of exacerbations and that exacerbations account for 50% to 75% of direct COPD healthcare costs,” Meilan Han, MD, associate professor in the University of Michigan’s Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care, told Medical Economics.

    Next: Study results

    Mark L. Fuerst
    Staff Correspondent

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