Objective: Provide recommendations for the identification, diagnosis, and management of ambulatory patients with anemia.
Materials and methods: The RAND/UCLA Appropriateness Method was used to develop the recommendations. A literature review of anemia prevalence (based on a search of PubMed for the period 1990 to 2003), etiology, and treatment outcomes was reviewed by a panel comprised of nine physicians (six primary care, three specialists) who then rated 336 clinical scenarios and grouped them into three categories: 'appropriate', 'uncertain', or 'inappropriate'.
Results: Performing a complete blood count on a yearly basis was rated 'appropriate' for patients with an underlying chronic condition, for men > or = 50 years old, and for all women with no chronic condition on an every-5-years basis. Specific recommendations were made for five anemia management options (observation, referral, empiric trial of iron, transfusion, and erythropoietic growth factors). Recommendations for observation alone were based on age, gender, and hemoglobin level. Immediate referral to a gastroenterologist or hematologist for a work-up was rated 'inappropriate' in all cases. An empiric trial of iron was rated 'inappropriate' for women over age 40 and for all men. Recommendations on the use of erythropoietic growth factors were based on hemoglobin level and anemia symptoms ('appropriate' if Hb < 9.5 g/dL, or if Hb = 9.5-11.0 g/dL and anemia symptoms were present). Finally, recommendations about transfusion were based on the severity of anemia and the presence of cardiovascular disease ('appropriate' in patients > or = 70 years old and in those presenting with either symptoms of anemia or underlying cardiovascular disease). The recommendations did not address anemia related to nutritional deficiencies, cancer/chemotherapy, or chronic renal failure.
Conclusion: Primary care physicians should obtain screening blood counts, perform diagnoses, and manage anemia in patient groups known to be at risk. These recommendations on the identification, diagnosis, and management of anemia represent an opportunity to improve outcomes in ambulatory patients with anemia.