Background: The respective roles of generalist and specialist physicians in the care of patients is currently a matter of debate. Information is limited about the knowledge and practices of generalist and specialist physicians regarding conditions that both groups treat, such as myocardial infarction.
Methods: We therefore surveyed 1211 cardiologists, internists, and family practitioners in the states of New York and Texas about four treatments demonstrated by randomized clinical trials to be associated with improved survival after myocardial infarction (thrombolytic therapy, immediate and long-term use of aspirin, and long-term use of beta-blockers) and two treatments for which such evidence is lacking (diltiazem for patients with pulmonary congestion and prophylactic lidocaine). We asked physicians about the effect of each treatment on survival and the likelihood that they would prescribe each class of drugs.
Results: For the four beneficial treatments, the cardiologists believed more strongly than the internists and family physicians that survival was improved by the treatment, and they were more likely to prescribe these drugs (P < 0.001). For example, 94.1 percent of cardiologists said they were very likely to prescribe thrombolytic agents to treat an acute myocardial infarction, as compared with 82.0 percent of internists and 77.3 percent of family practitioners. Conversely, for the two treatments for which trials showed no evidence of a survival benefit, cardiologists were less likely than internists and family practitioners to think there was such a benefit and less likely to prescribe the drugs (P < 0.001). For example, 4.7 percent of cardiologists reported that they were very likely to use prophylactic lidocaine, as compared with 13.1 percent of internists, and 16.5 percent of family practitioners. When we used logistic regression to adjust for potential confounders, all the differences between the cardiologists and the internists and family practitioners remained significant (P < 0.02).
Conclusions: Internists and family practitioners are less aware of or less certain about key advances in the treatment of myocardial infarction than are cardiologists. This finding underscores the need to improve the dissemination of information from clinical trials to generalist physicians, particularly if they are to have an enlarged role in the evolving health care system.