Background: Improved understanding of the reasons for underuse of diagnostic tests and treatments for congestive heart failure (CHF) may be helpful for designing future interventions to improve quality of care.
Methods: To determine differences between family physicians' and cardiologists' practice styles for diagnosis and treatment of CHF, a random sample of family physicians and cardiologists were surveyed with standardized case scenarios.
Results: Survey respondents were 182 family physicians and 163 cardiologists. Family physicians were less likely than cardiologists to rate measurement of left ventricular ejection fraction as "very important" for patients with new CHF, less likely to order an echocardiogram or test for ischemia, and much less likely to identify diastolic dysfunction as a cause of CHF. Family physicians were more likely to prescribe digoxin when it was not indicated (diastolic dysfunction) and less likely to prescribe digoxin and an angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor when they were indicated (moderately to severely reduced left ventricular ejection fraction). Family physicians expressed more concern over the risks of ACE inhibitors in patients with blood pressure of 100/70 mm Hg or serum creatinine of 2.0 mg/dL and were less likely to prescribe an ACE inhibitor in these settings. Family physicians overestimated the risks of warfarin use for atrial fibrillation and were therefore less likely to prescribe warfarin.
Conclusions: Family physicians appear to have less understanding of CHF pathophysiology (ie, systolic versus diastolic dysfunction) and how treatment differs according to the underlying disease process. Overestimation of the risk of ACE inhibitor and warfarin use may result in underprescribing these medications.