Objectives: This study was designed to characterize physician practices in the management of congestive heart failure (CHF) and to determine whether these practices vary by specialty and how they relate to guideline recommendations.
Background: Congestive heart failure is responsible for considerable mortality, morbidity and health care resource utilization. Although there have been important advances in the diagnostic evaluation and treatment of CHF, little information is available on physician practices in this area.
Methods: We surveyed physicians concerning their management of patients with CHF. The results were analyzed in multivariate models to determine the relation of diagnostic and treatment approaches to physician specialty, time since training, board certification and volume of patients with CHF. Surveys were sent to a sample of 2,250 family and general practitioners (FP/GPs), internists and cardiologists. Responses were examined in relation to guidelines issued by the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research that had been released 9 months previously.
Results: Significant differences were found between physician groups with regard to each of the major guideline recommendations. For example, routine evaluation of left ventricular function, a point of emphasis in the guideline, is performed by 87% of cardiologists, but by only 77% of internists and 63% of FP/GPs (p < 0.001 between groups). Angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors were used by cardiologists, internists and FP/GPs in 80%, 71% and 60% of patients with mild to moderate CHF, respectively (p < 0.001 between groups). Larger differences were reported in the prescribed dosages of these drugs and their use in patients with renal dysfunction.
Conclusions: Cardiologists report practices more in conformity with published guidelines for CHF than do internists and FP/GPs. Because of the large numbers of patients with CHF and their substantial mortality, morbidity and cost of care, these differences may have a major impact on outcomes and health care costs.