Background: Bronchial challenge testing (BCT) measures airway hyperresponsiveness; asthma guidelines recommend using BCT when symptoms manifest despite normal spirometry. Improper application of these guidelines commonly results in the misdiagnosis of asthma. Yet, statistics concerning BCT remain largely obscure. The current paper addresses this gap and explores how various health variables may elucidate adherence to asthma guidelines and patterns of BCT across Canadian provinces.
Methods: Using the Access to Information Act, medical financial claims for BCT (or equivalent procedures) were requested from each of the Canadian provinces and territories. Based on the available information (from provinces only), correlations between frequency of BCT claims and medical demographics (e.g., prevalence of respirologists, health expenditures) are reported.
Results: Controlling for population or for people with asthma, physicians from Québec claim four times more BCT per year than those in other provinces; physicians from Alberta close to eight-fold fewer. The number of respirologists per capita and BCT per capita correlated moderately, r(132) = 0.582, p < 0.001, [95% CI 0.421, 0.716]. Excluding “outliers” (i.e., British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan) greatly strengthened this correlation, r(87) = 0.930, p < 0.001, [95% CI 0.883, 0.958].
Discussion: These findings demonstrate that provinces vary in their use of BCT. This result seems to stem, at least in part, from differences in the prevalence of respirologists. Interestingly, geographic region appears to wield a strong influence; in the correlation between number of tests and number of respirologists, physicians from Western provinces (i.e., Alberta, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia) administered fewer tests than their Eastern colleagues. Given the association between inadequate application of BCT and misdiagnosis of asthma, physicians should pay special attention to the Canadian guidelines when considering an asthma diagnosis.
Thériault R, Raz A. Patterns of bronchial challenge testing in Canada. Can J Respir Ther. 2018;54(2):41-47.
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This article was originally published in Canadian Journal of Respiratory Therapy, volume 54, issue 2, in 2018.