Background: Our goal was to determine whether patient age affects a physician's reported likelihood of using anticoagulant therapy or the intensity of anticoagulant therapy for patients with nonvalvular atrial fibrillation.
Methods: We surveyed a nationwide sample of 1189 randomly selected office-based practitioners in three strata: primary care (geriatrics, internal medicine, family practice, and general practice), cardiology, and neurology. A vignette-based questionnaire was used to measure attitudes and beliefs regarding anticoagulation risks and effectiveness, barriers to anticoagulation in clinical practice, and likelihood of using anticoagulation and target intensity of anticoagulation at three patient ages (55, 65, and 75 years) for four clinical scenarios (chronic non-valvular atrial fibrillation with mild left atrial enlargement, intermittent or paroxysmal atrial fibrillation, recent-onset atrial fibrillation, and atrial fibrillation with recent [3 months] embolic stroke).
Results: The overall response rate was 38%. The mean likelihoods of using anticoagulation for the three ages were unequal (P < .0001) for each scenario. Most physicians were "very" or "somewhat" likely to use anticoagulant therapy for a 65-year-old with left atrial enlargement (71%), intermittent or paryoxysmal atrial fibrillation (68%), recent-onset atrial fibrillation (86%), or embolic stroke (96%). Fewer physicians were likely to use anticoagulant therapy for a 75-year-old with left atrial enlargement (63%), intermittent or paroxysmal atrial fibrillation (56%), recent-onset atrial fibrillation (80%), or embolic stroke (93%). Among physicians equally likely to use anticoagulation for 65- and 75-year-old patients, intensity of anticoagulant therapy (target international normalized ratio or prothrombin time ratio) was lower (P < .04) for the 75-year-old.
Conclusion: Anticoagulant therapy may be less often and less intensively used for elderly patients with nonvalvular atrial fibrillation.