COPD: Why See a Specialist?


Allie Lemco Toren

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Doctor examining male patient

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, known as COPD, is a complex condition that affects everyone differently. That’s why all COPD patients should follow unique treatment plans tailored to their specific needs. But your primary care doctor may not have all the information you need to manage your COPD successfully. That’s where pulmonologists come in: a COPD specialist, called a pulmonologist, has the right skills and insight to help you stay in control of your COPD. Here’s why:

1. A pulmonologist completes extensive training in COPD and is an expert in COPD care.

A pulmonologist is a physician who specializes in treating diseases related to the lungs and respiratory tract. These parts of the body are involved in many aspects of human health, so pulmonologists must train extensively to master this area of study. A pulmonologist will have expertise in treating COPD and other conditions related to the respiratory system.

All doctors complete a training program called a residency after they finish medical school. But pulmonologists receive considerable training beyond that. Pulmonologists spend several additional years in a fellowship, during which they train under experienced pulmonologists and focus on patients with COPD and issues affecting the lungs and respiratory system. At the end of this period, specialists are qualified to take an exam to become a board-certified pulmonologist. Look for a doctor who is board certified in pulmonology, and you’ll know you’re seeing an expert. 

2. A pulmonologist never stops learning about COPD.

To maintain their board certifications, pulmonologists must keep up with new developments in their field. They must complete continuing education and renew their licenses every few years, depending on the state in which they practice and other factors. By following these requirements, board-certified pulmonologists stay on top of new treatments and discoveries about the mechanisms involved in COPD, so they can then provide their patients with insightful, informed, and up-to-date treatment plans.

3. A pulmonologist has extensive experience in treating COPD.

Pulmonologists see a higher volume and concentration of patients with COPD, and thus are more experienced in treating the condition successfully. Because they see lots of patients with COPD, they can add real-world knowledge of the disease to their academic and clinical training. They’re able to assess how well patients respond to certain treatments, have a deeper understanding of how COPD progresses over time, share insight about effectively implementing lifestyle changes, and recognize symptoms that a general practitioner may miss, among other skills.

4. A pulmonologist is a team player.

Pulmonologists work with teams of other health care providers who treat patients with COPD and can connect patients with nurse practitioners, respiratory therapists, pulmonary rehabilitation therapists, and other experts in COPD management. Working with a team can help patients address all aspects of the disease and ensure success.

5. It’s easy to find the right pulmonologist for you.

There are thousands of pulmonologists in the United States, so how do you know which is the right doctor for you? By searching on, you can identify the best pulmonologist to help you manage your COPD successfully.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Jan 9, 2017

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