Background: Hypertension guidelines recommend the use of thiazide diuretics as first-line therapy for uncomplicated hypertension, yet diuretics are under-prescribed, and hypertension is frequently inadequately treated. This qualitative evaluation of provider attitudes follows a randomized controlled trial of a patient activation strategy in which hypertensive patients received letters and incentives to discuss thiazides with their provider. The strategy prompted high discussion rates and enhanced thiazide-prescribing rates. Our objective was to interview providers to understand the effectiveness and acceptability of the intervention from their perspective, as well as the suitability of patient activation for more widespread guideline implementation.
Methods: Semi-structured phone interviews were conducted with 21 primary care providers. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and reviewed by the interviewer before being analyzed for content. Interviews were coded, and relevant themes and specific responses were identified, grouped, and compared.
Results: Of the 21 providers interviewed, 20 (95%) had a positive opinion of the intervention, and 18 of 20 (90%) thought the strategy was suitable for wider use. In explaining their opinions of the intervention, many providers discussed a positive effect on treatment, but they more often focused on the process of patient activation itself, describing how the intervention facilitated discussions by informing patients and making them more pro-active. Regarding effectiveness, providers suggested the intervention worked like a reminder, highlighted oversights, or changed their approach to hypertension management. Many providers also explained that the intervention 'aligned' patients' objectives with theirs, or made patients more likely to accept a change in medications. Negative aspects were mentioned infrequently, but concerns about the use of financial incentives were most common. Relevant barriers to initiating thiazide treatment included a hesitancy to switch medications if the patient was at or near goal blood pressure on a different anti-hypertensive.
Conclusions: Patient activation was acceptable to providers as a guideline implementation strategy, with considerable value placed on the activation process itself. By 'aligning' patients' objectives with those of their providers, this process also facilitated part of the effectiveness of the intervention. Patient activation shows promise for wider use as an implementation strategy, and should be tested in other areas of evidence-based medicine.
Trial registration: National Clinical Trial Registry number NCT00265538.