Objectives: To review the evidence for clinical efficacy and cost-effectiveness of proven medications in the treatment and prevention of myocardial infarction (MI) in older patients; to summarize Canadian data on treatment patterns and clinical outcomes for younger and older patients with coronary heart disease; to explore the reasons for gaps between best care, based on the evidence of efficacy from trials, and usual care, based on the population effectiveness audits; and to explore potential approaches to closing the care gaps.
Design: Review of the recent clinical trial literature on the management of MI, highlighting results in older patients. Review of medication utilization and outcomes data from a series of large, consecutively enrolled patient cohorts with acute MI (N = 7070) in a variety of cardiac care settings (10 centers in five Canadian provinces, including university-based teaching hospitals, community hospitals, cardiologist and family physician out-patient clinics) from 1987 to 1996.
Results: There is no qualitative interaction of cardiac therapies: thrombolytics, beta-blockers, acetylsalicylic acid (ASA), and statins are efficacious in all clinically relevant patient subgroups, including older people. However, there are consistent gaps between usual care and best care, particularly among older patients (in whom there is also a concomitantly higher mortality risk). Repeated multivariate analyses confirm older age to be an independent contributor to increased risk. Use of efficacious medications is, in contrast, consistently associated with increased survival. Analysis of temporal trends suggests beneficial changes in practice patterns and outcomes are possible to achieve. However, "best care" has not been rapidly or completely achieved. Review of strategies to close these care gaps suggests that audit and feedback, critical pathways, and multifactorial interventions involving patients and other members of the healthcare team as well as physicians may be the most efficacious strategies for change.
Conclusions: Despite equal or enhanced efficacy, there is consistently less prescription of proven drugs among older cardiac patients. These care patterns may contribute to their enhanced risk. The causes underlying these practice patterns are complex, and their population impact may be undervalued by clinicians and managers. Improvement of these patterns is difficult, but ultimately it would be beneficial for this presently disadvantaged, readily identified, high risk patient population.