This week, American Family Physician joined clinicians, patients and organizations all over the country in supporting the Lown Institute's RightCare Action Week (#RCAW), which aims to re-focus the U.S. health system on care that is "effective, affordable, needed and wanted by well-informed patients, and especially, free of clinical decisions that are made with financial or business considerations." This goal is more far-reaching than the three year-old Choosing Wisely campaign objective of encouraging conversations between physicians and patients about potentially unnecessary care. As my colleague and fellow editor Dr. Jennifer Middleton mentioned last week, AFP has developed several resources to help family physicians implement Choosing Wisely in their practices. On the patient side, Consumer Reports has worked with more than 20 physician groups to create and distribute educational content about specific items in the campaign.
Are these efforts to reduce unnecessary care making a measurable difference? JAMA Internal Medicine recently published a study of national insurance claims data by Dr. Alan Rosenberg and colleagues that analyzed trends among seven of the earliest Choosing Wisely "don't do" recommendations from 2010 through 2013. Although there were statistically significant declines in CT and MRI for uncomplicated headaches and cardiac testing in patients without heart conditions, use of two other inappropriate services increased (NSAID prescriptions in patients with hypertension, heart failure, or chronic kidney disease; and primary HPV testing in women younger than age 30). Since the study didn't include data from 2014 or 2015, the results could either mean that the campaign isn't working or that it was just too early to tell.
Family physicians and patients should keep in mind that even care that is recommended by evidence-based guidelines and incentivized by pay-for-performance programs can be harmful if provided to patients without regard to their individual circumstances. In an Annals of Internal Medicine essay titled "The Tyranny of Guidelines," Dr. George Sarosi described the six-year saga of Mr. O, an independent octogenarian with mild hypertension and diabetes who suffered a hip fracture and subsequent stroke as the unfortunate end result of a "relentless downhill medical care spiral fueled by interventions ... to tightly control both the blood sugar and the blood pressure."
The pitfall in this case wasn't the guidelines themselves as much as the one-size-fits-all way they were applied by "the system" to the patient. Dr. Sarosi concluded, "We need a system that rewards the physician who understands the limitations of guidelines." Indeed, a Right Care system would reward physicians who prevent patients from receiving too much medicine.
This post first appeared on the AFP Community Blog.