Background: Although it is widely accepted that clinical trials in heart failure may not apply to older populations, the magnitude of the discrepancy between trial populations and patients seen in community-based practice are not known. Our objective was to determine the proportion of older persons meeting enrollment criteria of randomized controlled trials of agents that prolong life in heart failure.
Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional study of Medicare beneficiaries >64 years old with the principal diagnosis of heart failure who were discharged from acute care hospitals in the United States between April 1998 and March 1999. Enrollment criteria of the Studies of Left Ventricular Dysfunction (SOLVD), Metroprolol CR/LX Randomized Intervention Trial in Congestive Heart Failure (MERIT-HF), and Randomized Aldactone Evaluation Study (RALES) trials were applied to the population, and the proportions meeting the criteria were determined by subgroups of age and sex.
Results: Of the 20,388 patients studied, 18%, 13%, and 25% met the enrollment criteria of the SOLVD, MERIT-HF, and RALES trials, respectively. Although trial eligibility was less than a third for any sex or age group, significantly fewer women than men met trial criteria (13% vs 23% for SOLVD, 11% vs 17% for MERIT-HF, and 21% vs 32% for RALES, P <.0001 for all). The oldest patients were also less likely to fulfill enrollment criteria. The proportion of all patients not included because of preserved left ventricular systolic function was twice as large as the proportion meeting the inclusion criteria for any trial.
Conclusions: A minority of hospitalized older persons with heart failure fit the profile of populations of clinical trials. There is an urgent need for research in heart failure for typical heart failure patients, including the very old, women, and patients with preserved left ventricular systolic function.