Providing healthcare during the pandemic has been no small feat. People have been hesitant to seek care from their physician or healthcare provider for fear of contracting COVID-19 and those with the illness have worried about spreading it to others.

As a result, many people have gone without much-needed healthcare over the past two years, resulting in respiratory conditions going undiagnosed and progressing to the detriment of patients.

However, providers can assess lung function at the point of care with portable spirometry equipment like EasyOne Air.

Healthcare providers have recognized the benefits of portable spirometry for those experiencing the respiratory effects of long-haul COVID and those suffering from other respiratory illnesses like COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

The decline in spirometry testing and diagnosis of COPD during COVID-19

Fewer face-to-face consultations during the pandemic made diagnosing and managing COPD more difficult. Telehealth also made spirometry testing more challenging to perform and limited standard pulmonary rehabilitation and home care programs.

While more people need ongoing assessments and follow-ups for long COVID, those living with non-COVID respiratory conditions like COPD have continued to go undiagnosed throughout the pandemic. This circumstance leaves undiagnosed patients vulnerable and can reduce their long-term survival rate.

Pulmonary function testing (PFT) is an ideal tool for assessing the physiological impact of a virus that largely attacks the cardiopulmonary system. The well-established technology measures:

  • airflow
  • lung volumes,
  • and DLCO, the ability for oxygen and carbon dioxide to transfer between the alveoli and the bloodstream.

Thanks to affordable portable spirometry that clinicians can administer in a small office or mobile clinic, physicians now have the opportunity to diagnose and treat those with respiratory conditions without endangering patients or themselves.

patient sitting in a medical van while clinician administers spirometer test

Long-COVID is a “multisystem disease” consisting of many symptoms that may occur even after a brief or minor infection with the virus.

Respiratory experts caring for COVID-19 patients define post-acute and chronic COVID-19 as follows:

  • post-acute COVID-19 extended beyond three weeks from the onset of first symptoms, and 
  • chronic COVID-19 extended beyond 12 weeks.

A positive COVID-19 test was not a prerequisite for diagnosis.

‘Long-COVID’ applies to the beginning of the post-acute COVID-19 phase and extends through the chronic phase.

A team in Ireland found side effects like ongoing fatigue, malaise and shortness of breath were common in long-COVID patients two to three months after an initial diagnosis.

Over 60% of the participants in the study felt they hadn’t returned to full health after a median of 75 days from diagnosis to follow-up.

A similar study conducted in the United States found similar results.

177 people with confirmed COVID-19 were followed for between three and nine months by a team at the University of Washington. They found a slightly lower prevalence of long COVID, with roughly a third of the subjects reporting ongoing symptoms. 

The study also found that 14 people (8% of the study) had symptoms severe enough to affect their daily living and nine of these subjects had not even been hospitalized. 

Pulmonary function testing is a key component in respiratory disease management. The University of Washington study focused on patient-reported outcomes and the Irish study focused on imaging and other diagnostic tests. Yet, both overlooked even basic spirometry.

Post-COVID fibrosis is a growing concern. Some patients even require lung transplants to survive.

If clinicians had a portable spirometry tool available that could help them identify cases sooner and begin effective monitoring and treatment, those extreme solutions might not be necessary.

By better understanding the function of the post-COVID lung, healthcare professionals will be in a better position to create health initiatives to ensure long-COVID patients get the tools they need to return to full function.

doctors wearing masks and discussing long covid with xrays of lungs in the background

The benefits of spirometry at the point of care

Moving spirometry to the point of care not only makes things easier on your patients but has the potential to massively increase the set of data available for research in several different aspects.

Regular lung checkups typically consist of auscultation and a handful of lifestyle questions. As a result, there are routine delays in diagnosing conditions like COPD. These delays are associated with increased healthcare costs and worsened outcomes. Some studies even suggest that this is an area where primary care providers can make substantial contributions to improving the quality of the overall healthcare system.

Introducing spirometry at the point of care is simple and cost-effective. EasyOne Air has an ultrasonic TrueFlow™ technology that does not require calibration. Healthcare staff can simply grab the device, enter the patient’s data on the colour touchscreen and get to work.

The EasyOne Air can also be used with a computer USB or Bluetooth, allowing for additional incentive and coaching screens to make every test consistent and valid. Integration with major EMR systems allows for rapid clinical decision-making and care coordination, as well as simplified data collection for research.

With one device, healthcare professionals can easily establish baseline spirometry results for every patient, even those potentially at risk for a chronic respiratory condition (including the COVID-19 population), and keep an eye out for anomalies before they become noticeable symptoms.

The primary concern for healthcare professionals is to keep their patients safe. Portable spirometry can help do that in many ways:

  1. Allows patients to visit their family physician for a test instead of an unfamiliar hospital or large testing centre. For patients with a compromised respiratory or immune system, this reduces the likelihood of encountering other patients with various communicable illnesses like COVID-19 or the flu.
  2. Allows a healthcare provider to monitor a patient’s respiratory function during acute and post COVID on the spot. Physicians can quickly identify patients who have developed long-haul COVID and begin treatment immediately.
  3. Enables the physician to perform pulmonary testing on patients with respiratory symptoms consistent with COPD or other non-COVID respiratory disorders requiring prompt diagnosis, treatment and ongoing monitoring.

Choosing portable spirometry testing

Portable spirometry testing continues to be one of the most common and essential pulmonary function tests clinicians can offer to patients with long-COVID outside of large test centres and hospitals.

The real value of portable spirometry is obvious when a patient’s lung function values are immediately available to a healthcare professional as they are conducting their assessment and interviewing the patient regarding their symptoms.

With post-COVID fibrosis, having portable spirometry equipment such as the EasyOne Air to assess airflow enables healthcare providers to identify patients at risk and potentially intervene with treatment and follow-ups to avoid further lung impairment while reducing healthcare costs and patient discomfort.

The clear solution is to introduce pulmonary function testing at the point of care. This has historically been viewed as out of reach for the average office practice due to space, operational challenges and the cost of a full PFT suite. 

Modern technology has reduced the size and expense of PFT equipment to bring it within reach of every practice. The NDD EasyOne Air is an economical, handheld solution that empowers clinics and offices of any size to quickly start a spirometry program and test patients where they are instead of where you want them to go.

We also rent the NDD EasyOne Air and Easy-ON PC spirometers. See pricing and arrange a rental.

Want to learn more about portable spirometers?

Our team of instrumentation specialists can help answer any questions you may have about spirometry. To get started, fill out the ‘Talk to an expert’ form on our Spirometry page.

Note: This article is based on information from blog posts published by NDD Medical Technologies and repurposed with permission.

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Jonathan McCallum

Market Segment Manager: Occupational Health, Industrial Hygiene & Environmental Monitoring

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