Nov. 12 (UPI) — The vast majority of patients hospitalized for COPD, the fourth highest cause of death in the United States, never get follow up pulmonary rehabilitation.

Those startling findings, which wer published Monday in the Journal Annals of Thoracic Society, found that only 2 percent of more than 4,200 COPD patients in the U.S. began pulmonary rehabilitation after six months of COPD-related hospitalization. And among 6,100 COPD patients, only 2.7 percent received rehabilitation for their condition.

“Unfortunately, many patients face multiple barriers to participating, such as family responsibilities or transportation, and participation rates are especially low among vulnerable populations,” Kerry A. Spitzer, doctor at Baystate Medical Center and co-author of the study, said in a press release. “We have a lot learn about how hospitals can help address these challenges.”

These numbers remain low despite the proven benefits of rehab, a regimen that includes exercise, self-management guidance, nutrition advice and emotional support. Yet, most people diagnosed with COPD — 62 percent — are unaware rehabilitation for the chronic disease even exists.

That seems like a missed opportunity for many patients, researchers say, considering half of COPD patients who start rehabilitation complete 16 sessions, and that Medicare covers up to 36 rehab sessions.

On average, young white males and people on home oxygen were more likely to receive rehabilitation than lower income smokers with a history of hospitalizations and other chronic diseases, who lived at least 10 miles from rehab facilities.

While many factors can lead to developing COPD, its main cause is smoking, according to the American Lung Association.

To curb this negative trend, hospitals are more likely to enroll COPD patients into rehab prior to discharging them. Studies show that rehabilitation reduces COPD complications that lead to more patients hospital visits.Professional guidelines suggest patients start pulmonary rehabilitation within three months of COPD hospital treatment.

“As a result, we are seeing improvements in readmission rates among patients with COPD,” said Dr. Peter Lindeauer, a hospitalist at Baystate Medical Center and senior author of the study.

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