Routine use of post-bronchodilator testing in pulmonary function testing labs Journal Articles uri icon

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  • Purpose: Pulmonary function tests (PFTs), including spirometry with and without post-bronchodilator (post-BD) testing, are frequently performed in the assessment of asthma, along with other obstructive airway disorders. Multiple publications over the past 15 years have noted that one in three physician-diagnosed asthma cases are not in fact asthma. In this quality assurance project, we assess whether PFT labs in Alberta have policies on post-BD testing, as extraneous and unnecessary use of post-BD testing can lead to wasted staff and patient time and unnecessary expenses to the health care system. Methods: We reviewed, in collaboration with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta and Alberta Medical Association, all PFT labs in the province of Alberta (hospital-based private not-for-profit [NFP] and private for-profit [FP] labs). This health policy study of PFT labs involved identifying the proportions and regional distribution of NFP and private FP labs in the province of Alberta while assessing post-BD policies. Each PFT lab was asked for their policy regarding spirometry and asthma diagnosis from May 1 to August 31, 2017. Results: A total of 92 PFT labs were identified in Alberta, 74 of which were private FP (independent) labs, while 18 were private NFP (public) hospital-based labs. Policies were as follows: (i) post-BD policy existed (and if so routinely performed / not routinely done); (ii) no post-BD policy; and (iii) lab chose not to participate. All 18 hospital labs responded: 10 had no policy; six had a policy or algorithm; one did not perform post-BD testing (exercise testing) and one had multiple testing sites. Of the private FP labs, three had relevant policies and/or algorithm and 10 had none. No information was provided from 61 labs. Access to PFT labs in Northern Alberta was limited. Conclusions: Lab policies surrounding post-BD testing were found to be heterogeneous in Alberta. Low response rates, despite the use of a systems approach and requests in writing and in person from FP labs, were notable. Development of a standardized policy across the province would be beneficial. Further higher-level review of the appropriateness of post-BD use in both FP and NFP PFT labs is needed.


  • Agarwal, Joel
  • Saad, Emad
  • Fontaine, Geoffrey
  • Pagliardini, Silvia
  • Dafoe, William
  • Killian, Kieran
  • Gibney, RT Noel
  • Huston, Jim
  • Vethanayagam, Dilini

publication date

  • January 30, 2019