Background: There is only limited information on the extent to which physicians' characteristics affect the level of care and implementation of guidelines in patients with diabetes mellitus.
Objective: To identify physician characteristics associated with implementation of measures for preventive care in patients with diabetes mellitus and the distribution of implementation of these measures among them.
Patients and methods: A retrospective chart audit of 519 patients eligible for health maintenance organization insurance on December 31, 1994, representing patients with diabetes receiving care from 22 primary care physician-providers of a managed care medical group in suburban North Los Angeles, Calif, and seen by physicians between January 1993 and December 1994. A short retroactive questionnaire for participating physicians was also used. The outcome measures were (1) measurement of serum high-density lipoprotein cholesterol; (2) urinalysis for the detection of proteinuria; and (3) ophthalmology referral for dilated fundus examination.
Results: Over a period of 2 years 78% of the patients had a high-density lipoprotein cholesterol determination, 80% had a test for proteinuria, and 62% were referred to an ophthalmologist. After adjustment for patient pool differences, physicians who were perceived by the administration of the medical group as "fast," based on a blinded evaluation of their number of patient encounters per unit time, had an odds ratio of 0.60 (95% confidence interval [CI], 0.37-0.95; P=.03) to obtain a high-density lipoprotein cholesterol determination in their patients and an odds ratio of 0.53 (95% CI, 0.32-0.87; P=.01) to test their patients for proteinuria. In patients requiring insulin, of fast physicians, the odds ratio for a referral for ophthalmology screening was 0.25 (95% CI, 0.07-0.85; P= .03). Duration of time in practice of over 15 years and disagreement with practice guidelines were associated with better outcomes. There was no association between physician sex, internal medicine training, or number of patients with diabetes in the practice and the implementation of outcomes. There was a highly significant association between the implementation of an outcome and the implementation of the other 2, resulting in a nonhomogeneous distribution of health care delivery. Physicians' estimate of their rate of implementation of outcomes, as assessed by the questionnaires, overestimated their actual performance while being in proportion with the documented rates. Most physicians took responsibility for the nonimplementation, accepting that it was an oversight on their part as opposed to an encounter with patient resistance.
Conclusions: Most physicians believe that the lack of implementation of the measures for preventive care in patients with diabetes mellitus is an oversight. The oversight is more prevalent in the practices of busy physicians. The result is a nonhomogeneous distribution of health care. Computer reminders might be the solution.