Integrated disease management for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

What are the effects of integrated disease management (IDM) programmes on quality of life, ability to exercise, and number of lung attacks compared to usual care in people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)?


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic lung disease and is a major cause of ill health worldwide. People with COPD feel the impact of the disease in their daily life through symptoms such as breathlessness and coughing and acute worsening of symptoms in lung attacks.

Different healthcare providers, such as doctors, nurses, and physiotherapists, typically provide different types of care to people with COPD (e.g. prescribe medication, guide self-management, provide education, present exercise training). Previously, people with COPD could visit one or more different healthcare providers, and these providers would work independently. The goal of an integrated disease management (IDM) programme is to include different components of care by which different healthcare providers are co-operating and collaborating to provide more efficient care of better quality.

Study characteristics

We evaluated 52 studies involving 21,086 people with COPD. These studies were conducted in 19 countries spread all over the world. The average age of participants was 67 years, and 66% of participants were men. Some studies took place in general practices, some in hospitals, and some in both settings.

Key results

We found that people who participate in an IDM programme probably have better quality of life and their ability to exercise is probably improved compared to those receiving usual care. It is likely that people in an IDM programme have fewer hospital admissions for lung attacks and make fewer visits to an emergency department. When hospitalised, the total number of days people have to spend in hospital is reduced by two days. IDM programmes probably do not help to reduce the number of patients who die. The variety of available programmes makes it difficult to say if one IDM programme is the best.

Future studies should look at the most important components and the ideal length of the programme.

Certainty of the evidence

Overall, the certainty of our evidence was moderate to high but sometimes with large differences between studies.

This plain language summary is up-to-date as of February 2021.

Authors' conclusions: 

This review shows that IDM probably results in improvement in disease-specific QoL, exercise capacity, hospital admissions, and hospital days per person. Future research should evaluate which combination of IDM components and which intervention duration are most effective for IDM programmes, and should consider contextual determinants of implementation and treatment effect, including process-related outcomes, long-term follow-up, and cost-effectiveness analyses.

Read the full abstract...

People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) show considerable variation in symptoms, limitations, and well-being; this often complicates medical care. A multi-disciplinary and multi-component programme that addresses different elements of care could improve quality of life (QoL) and exercise tolerance, while reducing the number of exacerbations.


To compare the effectiveness of integrated disease management (IDM) programmes versus usual care for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in terms of health-related quality of life (QoL), exercise tolerance, and exacerbation-related outcomes.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Airways Group Register of Trials, CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase, and CINAHL for potentially eligible studies. Searches were current as of September 2020.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) that compared IDM programmes for COPD versus usual care were included. Interventions consisted of multi-disciplinary (two or more healthcare providers) and multi-treatment (two or more components) IDM programmes of at least three months' duration.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two review authors independently assessed trial quality and extracted data. If required, we contacted study authors to request additional data. We performed meta-analyses using random-effects modelling. We carried out sensitivity analyses for the quality of included studies and performed subgroup analyses based on setting, study design, dominant intervention components, and region.

Main results: 

Along with 26 studies included in the 2013 Cochrane Review, we added 26 studies for this update, resulting in 52 studies involving 21,086 participants for inclusion in the meta-analysis. Follow-up periods ranged between 3 and 48 months and were classified as short-term (up to 6 months), medium-term (6 to 15 months), and long-term (longer than 15 months) follow-up. Studies were conducted in 19 different countries. The mean age of included participants was 67 years, and 66% were male. Participants were treated in all types of healthcare settings, including primary (n =15), secondary (n = 22), and tertiary care (n = 5), and combined primary and secondary care (n = 10). Overall, the level of certainty of evidence was moderate to high.

We found that IDM probably improves health-related QoL as measured by St. George's Respiratory Questionnaire (SGRQ) total score at medium-term follow-up (mean difference (MD) -3.89, 95% confidence interval (CI) -6.16 to -1.63; 18 RCTs, 4321 participants; moderate-certainty evidence). A comparable effect was observed at short-term follow-up (MD -3.78, 95% CI -6.29 to -1.28; 16 RCTs, 1788 participants). However, the common effect did not exceed the minimum clinically important difference (MCID) of 4 points. There was no significant difference between IDM and control for long-term follow-up and for generic QoL.

IDM probably also leads to a large improvement in maximum and functional exercise capacity, as measured by six-minute walking distance (6MWD), at medium-term follow-up (MD 44.69, 95% CI 24.01 to 65.37; 13 studies, 2071 participants; moderate-certainty evidence). The effect exceeded the MCID of 35 metres and was even greater at short-term (MD 52.26, 95% CI 32.39 to 72.74; 17 RCTs, 1390 participants) and long-term (MD 48.83, 95% CI 16.37 to 80.49; 6 RCTs, 7288 participants) follow-up.

The number of participants with respiratory-related admissions was reduced from 324 per 1000 participants in the control group to 235 per 1000 participants in the IDM group (odds ratio (OR) 0.64, 95% CI 0.50 to 0.81; 15 RCTs, median follow-up 12 months, 4207 participants; high-certainty evidence). Likewise, IDM probably results in a reduction in emergency department (ED) visits (OR 0.69, 95%CI 0.50 to 0.93; 9 RCTs, median follow-up 12 months, 8791 participants; moderate-certainty evidence), a slight reduction in all-cause hospital admissions (OR 0.75, 95%CI 0.57 to 0.98; 10 RCTs, median follow-up 12 months, 9030 participants; moderate-certainty evidence), and fewer hospital days per person admitted (MD -2.27, 95% CI -3.98 to -0.56; 14 RCTs, median follow-up 12 months, 3563 participants; moderate-certainty evidence).

Statistically significant improvement was noted on the Medical Research Council (MRC) Dyspnoea Scale at short- and medium-term follow-up but not at long-term follow-up. No differences between groups were reported for mortality, courses of antibiotics/prednisolone, dyspnoea, and depression and anxiety scores. Subgroup analysis of dominant intervention components and regions of study suggested context- and intervention-specific effects. However, some subgroup analyses were marked by considerable heterogeneity or included few studies. These results should therefore be interpreted with caution.