Clinical trials demonstrate significant benefit from cholesterol management for patients with cardiovascular disease (CVD). National guidelines recommending goals for screening and treatment were published in 1993 and widely disseminated. This study examines cholesterol screening and management by primary care physicians after the guidelines were released.
Medical records and patient surveys provided data for 603 patients with CVD, aged 27 to 70 years, from 45 practices in 4 states during 1993 to 1995. Physician surveys measured estimated performance and other variables. Physician and patient factors associated with adherence, or lack of adherence, to national guidelines were examined using univariate and multivariate analyses.
A total of 199 patients (33%) with CVD were not screened with lipid panels, 271 patients (45%) were not receiving dietary counseling, and 404 (67%) were not receiving cholesterol medication. Only 84 patients (14%) with CVD had achieved the recommended low-density lipoprotein level of less than 2.58 mmol/L (100 mg/dL) and 302 (50%) had triglyceride levels lower than 2.26 mmol/L (200 mg/dL). Patients with a revascularization history and higher low-density lipoprotein and/or triglyceride levels were more likely to receive treatment, but other patient factors, including CVD risk factors, did not predict treatment. Physician specialty was not associated with differences in treatment, but physicians in practice for fewer years ordered more lipid panels.
Most patients with CVD in primary care were not receiving cholesterol screening and management as recommended by the National Cholesterol Education Program guidelines in the 2 years after their release. Increasing cholesterol screening and treatment should be a priority for practice quality improvement and could result in significant reductions in CVD events for high-risk patients.