Suitable tools for assessing the severity of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) include multi-component indices and the global initiative for chronic obstructive lung disease (GOLD) categories. The aim of this study was to evaluate the dyspnoea, obstruction, smoking, exacerbation (DOSE) and the age, dyspnoea, obstruction (ADO) indices and GOLD categories as measures of current health status and future outcomes in COPD patients. This was an observational cohort study comprising 5,114 primary care COPD patients across three databases from UK, Sweden and Holland. The associations of DOSE and ADO indices with (i) health status using the Clinical COPD Questionnaire (CCQ) and St George's Respiratory Questionnaire (SGRQ) and COPD Assessment test (CAT) and with (ii) current and future exacerbations, admissions and mortality were assessed in GOLD categories and DOSE and ADO indices. DOSE and ADO indices were significant predictors of future exacerbations: incident rate ratio was 1.52 (95% confidence intervals 1.46-1.57) for DOSE, 1.16 (1.12-1.20) for ADO index and 1.50 (1.33-1.68) and 1.23 (1.10-1.39), respectively, for hospitalisations. Negative binomial regression showed that the DOSE index was a better predictor of future admissions than were its component items. The hazard ratios for mortality were generally higher for ADO index groups than for DOSE index groups. The GOLD categories produced widely differing assessments for future exacerbation risk or for hospitalisation depending on the methods used to calculate them. None of the assessment systems were excellent at predicting future risk in COPD; the DOSE index appears better than the ADO index for predicting many outcomes, but not mortality. The GOLD categories predict future risk inconsistently. The DOSE index and the GOLD categories using exacerbation frequency may be used to identify those at high risk for exacerbations and admissions.