United States Preventive Care Can Be Better, Center for Disease Control Says

Ralph Coates, PhD of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) described in the June 15, 2012 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report that by looking back at a U.S. study done between 2007-2010 called “Use of Selected Clinical Preventive Services among Adults,” health providers need to do a more comprehensive job of offering preventive services.

According to the report, only 47% of patients with documented heart and vascular disease were given a recommendation to use aspirin for prevention. They additionally found that only 44% had their blood pressure under control. When looking at cholesterol and lipid control only 33% of the men and 26% of the women were tested with a blood lipid test in the last five years.  Of those patients who did measure their lipid levels, only 32% of the men and women surveyed had their lipids under control. Among diabetics, 13% had poor sugar control with a HgbA1C > 9 (goal is 6-8).

The data indicate that at 37% of the visits, patients weren’t asked about their smoking or tobacco status.  When patients were asked, and answered that they were smoking, only 21% were given smoking cessation counseling and only 7.6 % were prescribed medications or a way to stop smoking.

Screening for cancer needs improvement as well. Twenty percent of women between the ages of 50-74 had not had a mammogram in over two years.  In the same age group, a third of the patients were not current on screening for colon and rectal cancer.

The data was collected prior to the passage of the controversial Affordable Care Act. When the data was analyzed and divided according to socioeconomic status, education level, and health insurance status; it was clear that the poorest and least educated had the fewest screenings. It is hoped that with passage of the new health care law, and new insight by health insurers that it is cheaper to prevent a disease than treat it, these numbers will improve.

There are several other factors that need to be looked at as well. Data is now being collected from electronic medical health records.

I ask my patients about tobacco status on every patient visit.  When I note that the patient is smoking in their electronic health record, there are three or four ways to document counseling has been offered. Only one of them triggers the audit data for the government to review. Our software instructors were unaware of that when they taught us to use the system.  How much of this study is the result of data collection error is unknown.  “Health care providers” – not just physicians, are now delivering health care.

Access to physicians and a shortage of primary care physicians exacerbate the problem. It takes time to extract this information, record it, and counsel the patient. Because PCPs are underpaid, they will continue to see patients in high volumes to cover their expenses, causing the use of comprehensive preventative questioning to remain low.

New Suggestions for Managing High Blood Pressure in Senior Citizens

The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association have issued the first suggestions specifically for the treatment of high blood pressure in patients 65 and older. In the past, most research studies excluded patients 65 or older so it was difficult to extrapolate suggestions for treating younger patients to older patients.  The Hypertension in the Very Elderly (HYVET) trial changed that. It showed that when we lower the blood pressure in patients 80 years and older there is a decrease in deaths from stroke, a decrease in heart failure deaths and, decrease in death from all causes.

The consensus panel made the following suggestions:

1.  The general targeted blood pressure is less than 140/90

2.  Patients with coronary artery disease, diabetes and chronic kidney disease should aim for a BP less than 130/80 mm Hg.

3.  Lifestyle changes should be encouraged to manage milder forms of hypertension. This includes increasing exercise, reducing salt intake, controlling weight, stopping smoking and limiting alcohol to 2 drinks or less per day.  If this doesn’t work then medication treatment is indicated

The group supported the use of the “step care medication choice program” with the introduction of a thiazide diuretic as the first step in blood pressure medication usage.  They then went on to describe the appropriate usage of two medications at once, the use of beta blockers in cardiac patients and the use of calcium channel blockers.

They also supported screening patients’ urine for the presence of protein which would indicate that kidney problems need evaluation.  The group further suggested that the diagnosis of high blood pressure be made based on at least 3 blood pressure readings performed at two or more office visits.

The suggestions were not the more formal evidence based guidelines we have become accustomed to. They were a compromise agreement of a panel of experts from two organizations.  They encouraged further studies of these suggestions in the elderly so that they can accumulate the data they need to make future, firm, evidence-based guidelines.

For the average patient, nothing should change dramatically. As physicians, we will need to identify patients with elevated blood pressure and convince many of the elderly that there are significant benefits to taking medication to control their hypertension. This has been exceptionally difficult in the healthy elderly who develop hypertension in their mid to late 70’s and do not want to deal with the cost or side effect profile of taking “another pill.” Improving their lifestyle will always be the first option to control the elevated blood pressure.  However, the use of medications was strongly supported to control the pressure in those who need additional treatment.