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Improving spirometry testing by understanding patient preferences

New research highlights the need for clear information before, during and after spirometry testing, and underlines the important role of operators.

The European Lung Foundation (ELF) and a group of healthcare professionals wanted to understand the views of people who have completed spirometry testing. A spirometry test measures how healthy your lungs are and can be used to help diagnose and monitor lung conditions.

In partnership with a group of patient advocates and healthcare professionals, ELF designed an online survey to collect patients’ experiences of spirometry testing.

The survey was available in 10 languages between August and September 2018. The survey received 1760 responses from 52 countries. Most people who completed the survey were adults (97.1%) and the most common reasons for completing a spirometry test were to get a diagnosis (35.5%) and for management of an ongoing condition (60.9%).

We found that the people completing the survey were very experienced with spirometry: 89.9% had completed more than one test, while 48% had completed 10 or more tests. However, most reported that they did not know their most recent test results or what it means for their lung health. The exception was respondents with cystic fibrosis (CF) who reported much greater knowledge of their results and how this related to their condition.

We also asked respondents how problematic they found certain aspects of the test. Being told to keep blowing when they felt nothing is coming out, coughing, tiredness, and concern about shortness of breath were the most common problems for over one fifth of respondents.

Overall, respondents found spirometry to be acceptable, however an important minority (17%) find it difficult. Patients want clear information before, during and after the test, including information on whether they need to stop any medications prior to the test. Professionals have an important role in increasing the well-being of patients during the test, and changes to the testing environment can increase patient comfort. Patients want access to their results and want to understand how they relate to their individual health.

The results of the survey provide useful feedback for healthcare professionals involved in spirometry testing. The key messages were used to develop best practice guidance on how spirometry testing should be done. A new publication provides more detail about the experiences of people who have completed spirometry testing and highlights important ways that professionals can improve the experience for patients. The publication includes tips for healthcare professionals when conducting spirometry tests.

Read the full publication.

Testing your lung: Spirometry (an ELF resource).