Approximately 15% of cases of COPD, including chronic bronchitis, is attributable to occupational exposures. An occupational history is essential to identify exposures responsible for work-related chronic bronchitis.
We conducted a structured retrospective analysis of the medical records of veterans, 18 to 70 years of age, newly diagnosed with chronic bronchitis in order to achieve the following: (1) to assess the quality of documented occupational histories; and (2) to characterize the management of patients with a history of exposure to a potentially hazardous respiratory substance. We also analyzed occupational exposure data reported by patients on a structured questionnaire.
Sixty patients were included in the final analysis. A total of 6,150 notes were reviewed. Occupational status was documented in the records of 54 patients (90%). A description of occupational duties was recorded in 32 records (53%), and work exposure data in 26 records (43%). Clinicians concluded that occupational exposures potentially contributed to chronic bronchitis in three patients (5%). A recommendation for exposure avoidance was documented for six patients (10%). On the questionnaire, most patients reported a history of occupational exposure to respirable substances and symptoms of cough and/or shortness of breath.
Details about job duties and occupational respiratory exposures were documented in the records of approximately half of patients with newly diagnosed chronic bronchitis. Patient self-reports of occupational exposures and respiratory symptoms were common. A determination that occupational exposures contributed to chronic bronchitis was rare. Few patients were counseled to take measures to avoid occupational exposures. Work-related chronic bronchitis may be incompletely assessed and undermanaged by clinicians.