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Diving into the data: COPD diagnoses in NB

Author: NB-IRDT Staff

Posted on Apr 19, 2023

Category: DataNB

Working with population data lets researchers do some amazing things, like measure the prevalence of chronic diseases in New Brunswick to help with provincial healthcare planning. When decision makers know what proportion of the population is impacted by a disease, they can better allocate resources to meet New Brunswickers’ health needs.

However, working with data isn’t always straightforward, and accurately measuring chronic disease in a population requires understanding how different data capture information on the disease – including diagnosis. In a newly released report, researchers at NB-IRDT take a deep dive into some of the administrative data sets that contain information on COPD in New Brunswick.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease – known as COPD for short – affects many New Brunswickers; but just how far it reaches can be difficult to measure because of the different criteria that are used to capture a COPD diagnosis.

To explore how COPD is being diagnosed in New Brunswick, and to estimate whether the disease is being over- or underdiagnosed, our researchers looked at physician diagnoses flagged in the Canadian Chronic Disease Surveillance System (CCDSS) COPD data set and compared the data with pulmonary function testing data in another data set: the New Brunswick COPD Health Information Platform (NB-CHIP).

Pulmonary function testing (PFT) is considered the recommended gold standard for diagnosing cases of COPD, but COPD diagnoses are not always accompanied by matching PFT data. When a diagnosis lacks a corresponding PFT, this suggests people are being diagnosed without support from the recommended test; when diagnosed cases have a negative PFT on record, this suggests they are being overdiagnosed.

And when positive PFT results lack a corresponding diagnosis, this suggests people who may have COPD are being underdiagnosed. Examining these discrepancies between COPD diagnostic data (CCDSS) and PFT data (NB-CHIP) helps us gain more insight into the clinical practices surrounding how COPD is diagnosed in the province, which in turn has important implications for our understanding of the burden of COPD among New Brunswickers.

So, what proportion of COPD cases are potentially being over- or underdiagnosed – and who is most affected by these discrepancies? You can read the summary and the full report to learn this and more.