Referral of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease to pulmonary rehabilitation: a qualitative study of barriers and enablers for primary healthcare practitioners

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Colleges, School and Institutes


Background Pulmonary rehabilitation (PR) is a cost-effective, internationally recommended intervention for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Referral is predominately led by primary healthcare practitioners (PHCPs), but referral and patient uptake is poor.

Aim To understand barriers and enablers for PHCPs when considering patient referral to PR, to explore the influence of patient characteristics, and to understand how referral rates may be increased.

Design and setting PHCPs who care for and refer patients with COPD to PR were purposively selected from general practices across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, and the West Midlands.

Method A qualitative study. Semi-structured interviews were undertaken to theme saturation, exploring PR referral. Images depicting patients with varying COPD severity were used to stimulate memory and associative recall. Interviews were recorded, transcribed verbatim, and analysed using rapid qualitative analysis.

Results A total of 19 PHCPs were interviewed. Barriers to PR referral included limited awareness of the clinical benefits, little knowledge of local PR providers, consultation time constraints, and presumed low patient motivation. While practice nurses had the greatest knowledge, they still described difficulty in promoting PR. PHCPs frequently described assessing patient suitability based on presumed accessibility, social, and disease-specific characteristics rather than the clinical benefits of PR. Referrals were facilitated by financial incentives for the practice and positive feedback from patients and providers.

Conclusion There were more barriers to PR referral than enablers. Providers must engage better with PHCPs, patients with COPD, and carers, and actively promote PR. Increasing PHCPs’ awareness of the benefits of PR, financial incentives, and alternative referral pathways should be considered.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalBritish Journal of General Practice
Early online date27 Jan 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 27 Jan 2020


  • COPD, pulmonary disease, chronic obstructive, pulmonary rehabilitation, referral