BACKGROUND: Many individuals with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) remain undiagnosed worldwide. Health-care organisations are implementing case-finding programmes without good evidence of which are the most effective and cost-effective approaches. We assessed the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of two alternative approaches to targeted case finding for COPD compared with routine practice.
METHODS: In this cluster-randomised controlled trial, participating general practices in the West Midlands, UK, were randomly assigned (1:1), via a computer-generated block randomisation sequence, to either a targeted case-finding group or a routine care group. Eligible patients were ever-smokers aged 40-79 years without a previously recorded diagnosis of COPD. Patients in the targeted case-finding group were further randomly assigned (1:1) via their household to receive either a screening questionnaire at the general practitioner (GP) consultation (opportunistic) or a screening questionnaire at the GP consultation plus a mailed questionnaire (active). Respondents reporting relevant respiratory symptoms were invited for post-bronchodilator spirometry. Patients, clinicians, and investigators were not masked to allocation, but group allocation was concealed from the researchers who performed the spirometry assessments. Primary outcomes were the percentage of the eligible population diagnosed with COPD within 1 year (defined as post-bronchodilator forced expiratory volume in 1 s [FEV1] to forced vital capacity [FVC] ratio <0.7 in patients with symptoms or a new diagnosis on their GP record) and cost per new COPD diagnosis. Multiple logistic and Poisson regression were used to estimate effect sizes. Costs were obtained from the trial. This trial is registered with ISRCTN, number ISRCTN14930255.
FINDINGS: From Aug 10, 2012, to June 22, 2014, 74 818 eligible patients from 54 diverse general practices were randomly assigned and completed the trial. At 1 year, 1278 (4%) cases of COPD were newly detected in 32 789 eligible patients in the targeted case-finding group compared with 337 (1%) cases in 42 029 patients in the routine care group (adjusted odds ratio [OR] 7.45 [95% CI 4.80-11.55], p<0.0001). The percentage of newly detected COPD cases was higher in the active case-finding group (822 [5%] of 15 378) than in the opportunistic case-finding group (370 [2%] of 15 387; adjusted OR 2.34 [2.06-2.66], p<0.0001; adjusted risk difference 2.9 per 100 patients [95% CI 2.3-3.6], p<0.0001). Active case finding was more cost-effective than opportunistic case finding ( pound333 vs pound376 per case detected, respectively).
INTERPRETATION: In this well established primary care system, routine practice identified few new cases of COPD. An active targeted approach to case finding including mailed screening questionnaires before spirometry is a cost-effective way to identify undiagnosed patients and has the potential to improve their health.
FUNDING: National Institute for Health Research.