Clinical inertia contributes to poor diabetes control in a primary care setting

Diabetes Educ. Jul-Aug 2005;31(4):564-71. doi: 10.1177/0145721705279050.


Purpose: The purpose of this study was to determine whether "clinical inertia"-inadequate intensification of therapy by the provider-could contribute to high A1C levels in patients with type 2 diabetes managed in a primary care site.

Methods: In a prospective observational study, management was compared in the Medical Clinic, a primary care site supervised by general internal medicine faculty, and the Diabetes Clinic, a specialty site supervised by endocrinologists. These municipal hospital clinics serve a common population that is largely African American, poor, and uninsured.

Results: Four hundred thirty-eight African American patients in the Medical Clinic and 2157 in the Diabetes Clinic were similar in average age, diabetes duration, body mass index, and gender, but A1C averaged 8.6% in the Medical Clinic versus 7.7% in the Diabetes Clinic (P < .0001). Use of pharmacotherapy was less intensive in the Medical Clinic (less use of insulin), and when patients had elevated glucose levels during clinic visits, therapy was less than half as likely to be advanced in the Medical Clinic compared to the Diabetes Clinic (P < .0001). Intensification rates were lower in the Medical Clinic regardless of type of therapy (P < .0001), and intensification of therapy was independently associated with improvement in A1C (P < .001).

Conclusions: Medical Clinic patients had worse glycemic control, were less likely to be treated with insulin, and were less likely to have their therapy intensified if glucose levels were elevated. To improve diabetes management and glycemic control nationwide, physicians in training and generalists must learn to overcome clinical inertia, to intensify therapy when appropriate, and to use insulin when clinically indicated.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / blood
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / therapy*
  • Glycated Hemoglobin A / analysis
  • Humans
  • Patient Compliance
  • Primary Health Care / standards*
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care


  • Glycated Hemoglobin A