n Canada, COPD is an epidemic that shows no sign of slowing. “Currently COPD is the number one cause of hospitalization in Canada, outside of pregnancy,” says Dr. Mark FitzGerald, Director of the Centre for Heart and Lung Health at the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute. “COPD exacerbation is the number one cause of repeat hospitalization. In the Vancouver Coastal Health network, COPD admissions represent about five to six percent of all acute hospital bed usage in the region. It’s a significant burden on the health care system.”

Dr. FitzGerald was one of several researchers who earlier this year co-authored a new study entitled The Projected Epidemic of COPD Hospitalizations Over the Next 15 Years: A Population Based Perspective.  The study found that COPD hospitalization is likely to triple by 2030. “Prevalence is only going to increase,” says Dr. FitzGerald. “With the projections we have made in this study, it’s clear the burden will only become greater if we don’t do something about it. Even in a utopia where everyone stopped smoking tomorrow, we would still have this huge population cohort with 20 to 30 years or more of smoking history.”

To prevent the burden of hospitalization from overwhelming the health care system, we need to develop better options for treating the disease at home and in the community. “You obviously want to prevent people from being hospitalized with COPD, but even once they are hospitalized there has not historically been good continuity of care,” says Dr. FitzGerald. “By increasing support and especially continuity of care between the acute care system and the community, we have shown that we can prevent repeat hospitalizations and reduce the length of hospital stays.”