The number of Indian doctors, who use spirometry — a standard test to diagnose lung ailments, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) — increased by 30% between 2005 and 2013, according to a study published in the Nature partner journal last week.
Spirometry is a test that provides information about the functioning of the lungs. The test uses a special device called a spirometer, which measures the speed and volume of air that is exhaled into it by a patient. Doctors say the results of the test help them in the correct diagnosis of the ailment.
“Most international guidelines such as those in the ‘The Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Diseases’ recommend the test, however, in 2005 we found that it was under-used by doctors,” said Nitin Vanjare, author of the paper, Head, Pulmonary Function Laboratory, Chest Research Foundation, Pune (CRF).
He said that most doctors who don’t use spirometry rely on history and clinical examinations to make the diagnosis.
“This either leads to over diagnosis or under diagnosis, owing to which patients could be advised wrong medication,” he added. More than 5,000 doctors across India were a part of this study.
The findings revealed that in 2005, 20% of general physicians, 10% of general practitioners, and 55% of chest physicians across India used spirometry. These numbers increased to 26%, 12%, and 72% respectively in 2013.
The most common reasons cited among doctors for not using the test were the high costs of the spirometer, unaffordability of the test by the patients and the busy schedule of the doctor.
“The increase in the use of spirometry can be attributed to its growing awareness, regular trainings coupled with the drop in cost,” said Dr Sundeep Salvi, director, CRF.
However, Dr Prashant Chajjed, pulmonologist, Fortis Hospital, Mulund, said the cost of the test was never the real issue. “In most cases, it is lethargy from the doctor’s side for not performing the test as it takes half an hour for a patient.”
“The test cost ranges between Rs500 and 1000. But the test helps you differentiate between two respiratory diseases and start the correct treatment which is most important,” he added.