Image of older adult coughing into hand as companion looks pats his back

Approximately 40% of Medicare beneficiaries with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease have limited access to pulmonary rehabilitation services due to their distance from rehab centers. That’s according to research presented at the American Thoracic Society’s 2021 International Conference. 

Previous studies have confirmed that pulmonary rehabilitation provides significant improvement in quality of life and functional capacity while also reducing hospitalizations among adults with COPD. 

The researchers examined Medicare records between 1999 and 2018 and identified almost 10.3 million Medicare beneficiaries in whom COPD had been diagnosed. The team also established that the United States has 1,696 pulmonary rehabilitation centers. Finally, the researchers matched beneficiary ZIP codes with centers.

“The 2017 National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute COPD National Action Plan emphasized the important role of pulmonary rehabilitation in COPD patient care, as well as the limited access to pulmonary rehab services,” noted Gargya Malla, MPH, the lead study author and a doctoral candidate in the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “For the first time, we were able to quantify that limited access. The most important step to improving care for COPD patients is to increase access to pulmonary rehabilitation, a very cost-effective treatment.”

Malla suggested several potential solutions, including the use of tele-rehabilitation services, expansion of supervised services such as home-based pulmonary rehab, and web-based rehab.