What differentiates primary care physicians who predominantly prescribe diuretics for treating mild to moderate hypertension from those who do not? A comparative qualitative study

BMC Fam Pract. 2012 Feb 29;13:9. doi: 10.1186/1471-2296-13-9.


Background: Thiazide diuretics are cost-effective for the treatment of mild to moderate hypertension, but physicians often opt for more expensive treatment options such as angiotensin II receptor blockers or angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors. With escalating health care costs, there is a need to elucidate the factors influencing physicians' treatment choices for this highly prevalent chronic condition. The purpose of this study was to describe the characteristics of physicians' decision-making process regarding hypertension treatment choices.

Methods: A comparative qualitative study was conducted in 2009 in the Canadian province of Quebec. Overall, 29 primary care physicians--who are also participating in an electronic health record research program--participated in a semi-structured interview about their prescribing decisions. Physicians were categorized into two groups based on their patterns of prescribing antihypertensive drugs: physicians who predominantly prescribe diuretics, and physicians who predominantly prescribe drug classes other than diuretics. Cases of hypertension that were newly started on antihypertensive therapy were purposely selected from each physician's electronic health record database. Chart stimulated recall interview, a technique utilizing patient charts to probe recall and provide context to physician decision-making during clinical encounters, was used to elucidate reasons for treatment choices. Interview transcripts were synthesized using content analysis techniques, and factors influencing physicians' decision making were inductively generated from the data.

Results: We identified three themes that differentiated physicians who predominantly prescribe diuretics from those who predominantly prescribe other drug classes for the initial treatment of mild to moderate hypertension: a) perceptions about the efficacy of diuretics, b) preferred approach to hypertension management and, c) perceptions about hypertension guidelines. Specifically, physicians had differences in beliefs about the efficacy, safety and tolerability of diuretics, the most effective approach for managing mild to moderate hypertension, and in aggressiveness to achieve treatment targets. Marketing strategies employed by the pharmaceutical industry and practice experience appear to contribute to these differences in management approach.

Conclusions: Physicians preferring more expensive treatment options appear to have several misperceptions about the efficacy, safety and tolerability of diuretics. Efforts to increase physicians' prescribing of diuretics may need to be directed at overcoming these misperceptions.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antihypertensive Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Decision Making*
  • Diuretics / therapeutic use*
  • Drug Prescriptions / statistics & numerical data*
  • Drug Utilization
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / drug therapy*
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Physicians, Family / psychology*
  • Physicians, Family / statistics & numerical data
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / trends
  • Qualitative Research
  • Quebec


  • Antihypertensive Agents
  • Diuretics