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Early discharge for patients with exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: a randomised controlled trial
  1. M M Cotton,
  2. C E Bucknall,
  3. K D Dagg,
  4. M K Johnson,
  5. G MacGregor,
  6. C Stewart,
  7. R D Stevenson
  1. Department of Respiratory Medicine, Glasgow Royal Infirmary, Glasgow G31 2ER, UK
  1. Dr R D StevensonRobin.Stevenson{at}


BACKGROUND We have previously reported the use of a hospital based respiratory nurse service (Acute Respiratory Assessment Service, ARAS) to support home treatment of patients with exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). A controlled trial was undertaken to compare early discharge with home treatment supported by respiratory nurses with conventional hospital management of patients admitted with exacerbations of COPD.

METHODS Patients with COPD admitted as emergencies were identified the next working day. They were eligible for inclusion in the study if the differential diagnosis included an exacerbation of COPD, but were excluded if other medical conditions or acidotic respiratory failure required inpatient investigation or management. Of 360 patients reviewed, 209 were being assessed for other active medical problems and were excluded, 33 potential participants were already involved in research studies and so were ineligible, and 37 did not wish to participate in the study. Eighty one patients were randomised to receive conventional inpatient care (n=40) or to planned early discharge the next working day (n=41). Those discharged early continued treatment at home under the supervision of specialist respiratory nurses. Outcome measures were readmission, additional hospital days, and deaths within 60 days of initial admission. Process measures included number of visits, duration of follow up by the respiratory nurse, and additional treatment provided to support early discharge.

RESULTS On an intention to treat basis, a policy of early discharge reduced inpatient stay from a mean of 6.1 (range 1–13) days with conventional management to 3.2 (1–16) days with an early discharge policy. Twelve patients (30% conventional management, 29.3% early discharge) were readmitted in each group giving a mean difference in readmission of 0.7% (95% CI of the difference –19.2 to 20.6). In the conventional management group readmitted patients spent a mean of 8.75 additional days in hospital compared with 7.83 days in the early discharge group, giving a mean difference of 0.92 days (95% CI of the difference –6.5 to 8.3). There were two deaths (5%) in the conventional management group and one (2.4%) in the early discharge group, a mean difference of 2.6% (95% CI of the difference –5.7 to 10.8).

CONCLUSIONS Patients with acute exacerbations of COPD uncomplicated by acidotic respiratory failure or other medical problems can be discharged home earlier than is current practice with support by visiting respiratory nurses. No difference was found in the subsequent need for readmission.

  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • assisted discharge from hospital
  • readmission
  • domiciliary respiratory nursing

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