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Original Investigation
Less Is More
August 2015

Use of Preoperative Testing and Physicians’ Response to Professional Society Guidance

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Medicine, New York University School of Medicine, New York
  • 2Department of Population Health, New York University School of Medicine, New York
  • 3Department of Anesthesiology, New York University School of Medicine, New York
  • 4New York University Langone Medical Center, New York
JAMA Intern Med. 2015;175(8):1352-1359. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.2081
Abstract

Importance  The value of routine preoperative testing before most surgical procedures is widely considered to be low. To improve the quality of preoperative care and reduce waste, 2 professional societies released guidance on use of routine preoperative testing in 2002, but researchers and policymakers remain concerned about the health and cost burden of low-value care in the preoperative setting.

Objective  To examine the long-term national effect of the 2002 professional guidance from the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association and the American Society of Anesthesiologists on physicians’ use of routine preoperative testing.

Design, Setting, and Participants  Retrospective analysis of nationally representative data from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey and National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey to examine adults in the United States who were evaluated during preoperative visits from January 1, 1997, through December 31, 2010. A quasiexperimental, difference-in-difference (DID) approach evaluated whether the publication of professional guidance in 2002 was associated with changes in preoperative testing patterns, adjusting for temporal trends in routine testing, as captured by testing patterns in general medical examinations.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Physician orders for outpatient plain radiography, hematocrit, urinalysis, electrocardiogram, and cardiac stress testing.

Results  During the 14-year period, the average annual number of preoperative visits in the United States increased from 6.8 million in 1997-1999 to 9.8 million in 2002-2004 and 14.3 million in 2008-2010. After accounting for temporal trends in routine testing, we found no statistically significant overall changes in the use of plain radiography (11.3% in 1997-2002 to 9.9% in 2003-2010; DID, −1.0 per 100 visits; 95% CI, −4.1 to 2.2), hematocrit (9.4% in 1997-2002 to 4.1% in 2003-2010; DID, 1.2 per 100 visits; 95% CI, −2.2 to 4.7), urinalysis (12.2% in 1997-2002 to 8.9% in 2003-2010; DID, 2.7 per 100 visits; 95% CI, −1.7 to 7.1), or cardiac stress testing (1.0% in 1997-2002 to 2.0% in 2003-2010; DID, 0.7 per 100 visits; 95% CI, −0.1 to 1.5) after the publication of professional guidance. However, the rate of electrocardiogram testing fell (19.4% in 1997-2002 to 14.3% in 2003-2010; DID, −6.7 per 100 visits; 95% CI, −10.6 to −2.7) in the period after the publication of guidance.

Conclusions and Relevance  The release of the 2002 guidance on routine preoperative testing was associated with a reduced incidence of routine electrocardiogram testing but not of plain radiography, hematocrit, urinalysis, or cardiac stress testing. Because routine preoperative testing is generally considered to provide low incremental value, more concerted efforts to understand physician behavior and remove barriers to guideline adherence may improve health care quality and reduce costs.

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