Many surgeries now choose to have a spirometer on the premises. Some are stand alone while others connect to a PC and may integrate with the practice IT system. The complexities of each system vary dramatically.
We have put together this comparison to help you find one that suits you best.
PulmoLife COPD screening meter
Dr Peter Standing, a GP in Bury, Lancashire
The PulmoLife is a screening spirometer from Micro Medical Ltd designed to identify early COPD in smokers. The single best index for monitoring COPD deterioration is the FEV1, which the PulmoLife can record. The device does not measure FVC or forced expiratory ratio.
The purpose of the four control buttons is obvious, and the screen icon choices for sex, height, age and race are easy to follow. A bleep and a picture of a patient blowing reassures you that you have entered data and that the device is ready.
Results are clear, displaying the FEV1 in litres and its percentage of predicted. Percentages below 80 flash repeatedly and pressing the scroll key reveals a picture of a sad male or female smoker with a lung age.
Screening for COPD among the smoking community is important. Quite apart from helping smokers understand the damage they are inflicting on their lungs, diagnosing COPD is the first step to implementing treatment.
The PulmoLife can be used to monitor FEV1 in known COPD sufferers. The PulmoLife achieves top marks in my books. Even GPs and nurses who dislike technology should enjoy using it. Its price has been sensibly pitched at about £100.
Welch Allyn PC-based SpiroPerfect spirometer
Dr Jane Barnard, a GP in Yately, Hampshire
This spirometer comprises a transducer, into which a sterile disposable mouthpiece fits, and a USB cable that connects the device to a PC.
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.
Once you have selected a patient, you then click on the spirometer icon and this lists the various tests. When the patient is ready, you click the record icon and wait for the OK. When 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.
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 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.
Dr Jane Barnard
The MicroLab desktop spirometer is compact, lightweight, and has a state-of-the-art, PDA-style, high-resolution colour screen and easy-to-follow menu.
The spirometer comes in a carry case and can be mains-run or battery-run for about four hours before re-charging. More than 2,000 patients' results can be recorded, and you can create a database using patient numbers, name, age and personal details, and so bring up patients who are being seen in a particular clinic.
The bubblegum feature is great for encouraging patients who are not good at the forced spirometry. The bubble blows up on the screen while the patient is puffing, and if they reach their potential, the bubble will burst.
It is designed for children, but most adults will also enjoy the challenge.
A popular feature is the lung age, which is useful with smokers as an incentive to quit. You can use the built-in printer to print the result, or there is software available to allow for uploading the test results to a PC.
The MicroLab is cleverly designed to be suitable for GP surgeries; it certainly went down a storm at ours.
Equipment supplied by Williams Medical Supplies.