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Spirometry directly linked to your PC

A PC-based spirometer enables instant data transfer to your records.

I recently reviewed the impressive portable MicroLab spirometer, so this PC-based spirometer from Welch Allyn had a lot to live up to.

The spirometer itself comprises a transducer, into which a sterile disposable mouthpiece fits, and a USB cable that connects the device to a PC. It is supplied with a copy of the SpiroPerfect program on CD-ROM.

Flexibility for clinics

A member of the manufacturing team assisted in installing the software on our PC. It can be put on as many computers in your surgery as you require, allowing some flexibility as to where your spirometer clinics can be held.

There were a few problems with the initial set-up but they were quickly resolved. I was then shown step-by-step how the system worked. This made sure that only the spirometer readings I required were highlighted.Clearly not all the possible measurements this sophisticated machine can make are relevant for GP applications.

I was then left to play with it and given a contact number and e-mail address in case of teething problems.

It did not take me long to get into the swing of the software and its screen set-up. There is quite a lot crammed into the screen but, once you orientate yourself, you can focus on the sections required for each reading.

You begin with the icon for 'patient', enabling you either to start a new patient data sheet (with name, age, height, weight, sex and ethnicity), search for a patient, or list all patients on the database.

Once you have selected a patient, you then click on the spirometer icon and this lists the various tests. These include SVC, FVC, and pre- and post-medication (bronchodilator or steroid) settings. There are additional facilities should you require them.

Record charts

Once the patient is ready, you click the record icon and wait for the OK. Three readings are required for both the SVC and FVC, and after each set, you simply click 'done' and the program charts all the measurements on screen. The readings are also compared with predicted values.

Once the readings are complete, the data can be attached to the patient's records on our EMIS system, and viewed again at a later stage, as long as the SpiroPerfect program has been installed on the computer. When you view the attachment in EMIS it opens directly into the patient's SpiroPerfect recordings.

Easy interface

According to the booklet, it is possible to 'interface with electronic medical records or patient management systems', which I take means that it is compatible with most other systems - but check compatibility with yours before buying.

The spirometer readings can also be printed on your PC's printer and stored in paper records if required.

There is an 'incentive screen' for the FVC readings, which is very helpful, especially for children. This takes the form of a fire and fireman with a hose. If you puff to your predicted levels, he puts out the fire.

Regular calibrating, which is essential in some form for all spirometer machines, is recommended daily in the case of the SpiroPerfect using a special three-litre syringe. It is incredibly easy and quick.

Pros and cons

Both the PC-based and the portable spirometers have advantages and disadvantages, but it is clearly not as easy to take a PC-based spirometer to a patient's home unless you have a surgery laptop.

Still I find it hard to choose between them, but the PC-based program is neat, simple, and it was easy to transfer data to EMIS. You will have to decide what would suit your surgery set-up the best.

- An independent review by Dr Barnard, a GP in Yately, Hampshire

- Equipment supplied by Williams Medical Supplies

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