Open Access Open Badges Research article

The optimization of the diagnostic work-up in patients with suspected obstructive lung disease

Frank J Visser1*, Milena JMM van der Vegt1, Gert Jan van der Wilt2 and Julius P Janssen1

Author Affiliations

1 Canisius Wilhelmina Hospital, Nijmegen, The Netherlands Department of Pulmonary Medicine, Canisius-Wilhelmina Hospital, Nijmegen, The Netherlands

2 Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics, and Health Technology Assessment, Radboud University Hospital, Nijmegen, the Netherlands

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BMC Pulmonary Medicine 2010, 10:60  doi:10.1186/1471-2466-10-60

Published: 23 November 2010



Pulmonary function testing is a key procedure in the work-up of patients who are suspected of having asthma and chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD). Therein, clinical visits and pulmonary function tests (PFTs) are the major contributors to the overall financial costs.

The aim of this study was to assess whether a specific diagnostic test protocol contributes to the optimization of the work-up of patients who are suspected of having asthma and COPD.


A prospective, single-blind, and randomized controlled study was performed. In the control group (CG), all of the PFTs that were ordered by the lung specialist were carried out. In the experimental group (EG), specific PFTs were selected according to our protocol. The primary end point was the total cost of achieving a final diagnosis.


One hundred and seventy-nine patients were included into this study: 86 in the CG and 93 in the EG. The mean number of tests to diagnosis was 3.8 in the CG versus 2.9 in the EG (P < 0.001). The mean number of redundant PFTs before diagnosis was 1.2 in the CG versus 0.08 in the EG (P < 0.001). The number of patients who required an additional outpatient visit to complete diagnosis was higher in the CG in comparison to the EG (P = 0.02). The mean cost of work-up per diagnosis was €227 in the CG versus €181 in the EG (P < 0.001).


In this group of patients with suspected obstructive lung disease, protocol-driven, PFT-based selection is more cost-effective than test selection at the discretion of lung physicians.