Why physicians favor use of percutaneous coronary intervention to medical therapy: a focus group study

J Gen Intern Med. 2008 Sep;23(9):1458-63. doi: 10.1007/s11606-008-0706-x. Epub 2008 Jul 10.


Background: Percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) is performed in many patients with stable coronary artery disease, despite evidence of little clinical benefit over optimal medical therapy.

Objective: To examine physicians' beliefs, practices, and decision-making regarding elective PCI.

Design: Six focus groups, three with primary care physicians and three with cardiologists. Participants discussed PCI using hypothetical case scenarios. Transcripts were analyzed using grounded theory, and commonly expressed themes regarding the decision-making pathway to PCI were identified.

Participants: Twenty-eight primary care physicians and 20 interventional and non-interventional cardiologists in Butte County, Orange County, and San Francisco Bay Area, California, in 2006.

Results: A number of factors led primary care physicians to evaluate non-symptomatic or minimally symptomatic patients for coronary artery disease and refer them to a cardiologist. The use of screening tests often led to additional testing and referral, as well as fear of missing a coronary stenosis, perceived patient expectations, and medicolegal concerns. The end result was a cascade such that any positive test would generally lead to the catheterization lab, where an "oculostenotic reflex" made PCI a virtual certainty.

Conclusions: The widespread use of PCI in patients with stable coronary artery disease--despite evidence of little benefit in outcomes over medical therapy--may in part be due to psychological and emotional factors leading to a cascade effect wherein testing leads inevitably to PCI. Determining how to help physicians better incorporate evidence-based medicine into decision-making has important implications for patient outcomes and the optimal use of new technologies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Angioplasty, Balloon, Coronary / statistics & numerical data*
  • Cardiology
  • Coronary Artery Disease / drug therapy
  • Coronary Artery Disease / therapy*
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physicians, Family
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'*
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Stents / statistics & numerical data