BACKGROUND: Acute exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (AECOPD) is the leading reason for hospitalization in Canada and a significant financial burden on hospital resources. Identifying factors that influence the time a patient spends in the hospital and readmission rates will allow for better use of scarce hospital resources.OBJECTIVES: To determine the factors that influence length of stay (LOS) in the hospital and readmission for patients with AECOPD in an inner-city hospital.METHODS: Using the Providence Health Records, a retrospective review of patients admitted to St Paul’s Hospital (Vancouver, British Columbia) during the winter of 2006 to 2007 (six months) with a diagnosis of AECOPD, was conducted. Exacerbations were classified according to Anthonisen criteria to determine the severity of exacerbation on admission. Severity of COPD was scored using the Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) criteria. For comparative analysis, severity of disease (GOLD criteria), age, sex and smoking history were matched.RESULTS: Of 109 admissions reviewed, 66 were single admissions (61%) and 43 were readmissions (39%). The number of readmissions ranged from two to nine (mean of 3.3 readmissions). More than 85% of admissions had the severity of COPD equal to or greater than GOLD stage 3. The significant indicators for readmission were GOLD status (P<0.001), number of related comorbidities (OR 1.47, 95% CI 1.10 to 1.97; P<0.009) and marital status (single) (OR 4.18, 95% CI 1.03 to 17.02; P<0.046). The requirement for social work involvement during hospital admission was associated with a prolonged LOS (P<0.05).CONCLUSIONS: The results of the present study show that disease severity (GOLD status) and number of comorbidities are associated with readmission rates of patients with AECOPD. Interestingly, social factors such as marital status and the need for social work intervention are also linked to readmission rates and LOS, respectively, in patients with AECOPD.