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Bouck Z, Ferguson J, Ivers NM, et al. Physician Characteristics Associated With Ordering 4 Low-Value Screening Tests in Primary Care. JAMA Netw Open. 2018;1(6):e183506. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.3506
Do physicians who order a high frequency of 1 low-value screening test also order a high frequency of other low-value screening tests?
In this cohort study of 2394 primary care physicians, 18.4% of the physicians were in the top ordering quintile of at least 2 of 4 low-value screening tests. These physicians ordered 39.2% of all low-value screening tests.
The study findings suggest that efforts to reduce low-value care should consider strategies that focus on physicians who order a high frequency of low-value care.
Efforts to reduce low-value tests and treatments in primary care are often ineffective. These efforts typically target physicians broadly, most of whom order low-value care infrequently.
To measure physician-level use rates of 4 low-value screening tests in primary care to investigate the presence and characteristics of primary care physicians who frequently order low-value care.
Design, Setting, and Participants
A retrospective cohort study was conducted using administrative health care claims collected between April 1, 2012, and March 31, 2016, in Ontario, Canada. This study measured use of 4 low-value screening tests—repeated dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scans, electrocardiograms (ECGs), Papanicolaou (Pap) tests, and chest radiographs (CXRs)—among low-risk outpatients rostered to a common cohort of primary care physicians.
Physician sex, years since medical school graduation, and primary care model.
Main Outcomes and Measures
This study measured the number of tests to which a given physician ranked in the top quintile by ordering rate. The resulting cross-test score (range, 0-4) reflects a physician’s propensity to order low-value care across screening tests. Physicians were then dichotomized into infrequent or isolated frequent users (score, 0 or 1, respectively) or generalized frequent users for 2 or more tests (score, ≥2).
The final sample consisted of 2394 primary care physicians (mean [SD] age, 51.3 [10.0] years; 50.2% female), who were predominantly Canadian medical school graduates (1701 [71.1%]), far removed from medical school graduation (median, 25.3 years; interquartile range, 17.3-32.3 years), and reimbursed via fee-for-service in a family health group (1130 [47.2%]). They ordered 302 509 low-value screening tests (74 167 DXA scans, 179 855 ECGs, 19 906 Pap tests, and 28 581 CXRs) after 3 428 557 ordering opportunities. Within the cohort, generalized frequent users represented 18.4% (441 of 2394) of physicians but ordered 39.2% (118 665 of 302 509) of all low-value screening tests. Physicians who were male (odds ratio, 1.29; 95% CI, 1.01-1.64), further removed from medical school graduation (odds ratio, 1.03; 95% CI, 1.02-1.04), or in an enhanced fee-for-service payment model (family health group) vs a capitated payment model (family health team) (odds ratio, 2.04; 95% CI, 1.42-2.94) had increased odds of being generalized frequent users.
Conclusions and Relevance
This study identified a group of primary care physicians who frequently ordered low-value screening tests. Tailoring future interventions to these generalized frequent users might be an effective approach to reducing low-value care.
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