​Choosing diagnostic tests wisely: Doing the little things well

* RESEARCH FIRST LOOK *

There was such a wonderful response to the Choosing Surgery Wisely paper from Dr Roland Grad and medical students Nicholas Meti and Mathieu Rousseau, that they have submitted another!

Dr Grad's poster at PODC2015

Dr Grad's poster at PODC2015

You may remember Dr Grad, a family physician and researcher at McGill University, from his poster on harnessing InfoPOEMS to find potential topics for the Choosing Wisely Campaign, which he also presented at the Preventing Overdiagnosis conference this year (PODC2015). [click to view the more recent poster in PDF format]

Again, Rousseau and Meti worked with Dr Grad to extend this work and look at InfoPOEMs that dealt with three topics in diagnostic testing: stable TSH measurements, screening mammography, and mid-stream urine collection. Guided by clinical questions pertaining to these topics and the best available evidence, they make a clear case that we need to choose very wisely when considering 'routine' testing. There are some apt qualitative insights provided by physicians reflecting on the practice-changing POEMs (Patient-Oriented Evidence that Matters) included in this research, which will undoubtedly help it to resonate with readers.

Please feel free to leave questions or comments below or contact the authors directly. If you would like to submit a guest-post for consideration, email lessismoremedicine@gmail.com.


Choosing diagnostic tests wisely: Doing the little things well

Rousseau, M., Meti, N., Grad, R. Faculty of Medicine, McGill University, Montreal, Canada.
 

Introduction
 

As clinicians, do we challenge the appropriateness of our diagnostic test ordering? To achieve shared decision-making in health care, it is up to clinicians to communicate both the harms (as well as the benefits) of diagnostic testing. Within the concept of shared-decision making, there are three core practices: 1) Identifying that a decision must be made; 2) Communicating the potential benefits and harms of options to patients; and 3) Incorporating what is important to patients within the decision. The latter may require us to consider other questions: What would be the impact of this test on the patient’s quality of life? What about the interval between follow-up tests? What is the impact on the economy when diagnostic tests and follow-ups are considered at scale? When clinicians think about ordering a test (or not), we suspect their decision is based on “routines” and “experience”. The point of this post is not to argue against the “art of medicine”, but to raise awareness of new research that can inform decisions about diagnostic testing.

In this post, we highlight the findings of three recent diagnostic test studies. Study findings were disseminated to Canadian physicians as ‘POEMs’. For those unfamiliar with this acronym, POEMs are tailored synopses of primary research or systematic reviews, selected in a process that involves searching over 100 journals. [1] Since 2005, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) delivers one POEM to their members by email on weekdays. As described in a prior guest post (Choosing Surgery Wisely), we identified the following POEMs by analyzing the ratings of all daily POEMs (n=255) collected from physician members of the CMA in 2014.
 

CLINICAL QUESTION: “How much do seemingly stable thyroid tests vary over time? / POEM Title: Stable TSH can be rechecked in 2 years”

In a cohort study, the authors asked how frequently do patients with treated hypothyroidism need to have their TSH measured. [2] From a sample size of over 700 persons treated with levothyroxine, they were able to identify a subgroup that would benefit from less frequent TSH monitoring based on their dose of levothyroxine. They report that patients receiving less than 125 micrograms per day could have their TSH rechecked in two years instead of annually. Importantly, this study highlights that once TSH has normalized, the frequency of subsequent monitoring can be stratified based on dosing.

Monitoring frequency is a relevant issue in the clinic setting. In the absence of evidence, many clinicians assume default rates for all manner of diagnostic test and treatment plans. We read the free-text comments submitted by CMA physicians about this POEM. Some of these physicians expressed surprise at the association between dose and frequency of monitoring. Others reported the following: had they known about this approach, they would have spread out the visits for their healthier patients. This would save time and provide costs savings for the healthcare system. Although not addressed by this study, one physician even raised the question of whether we need to be checking TSH levels at all in an asymptomatic patient.

 

CLINICAL QUESTION: “What are the trade-offs of benefits and harms for women considering a mammogram to screen for breast cancer? / POEM Title: Numbers to help women understand the benefits/ harms of screening mammography”

Welch et al. believe primary care physicians should have more balanced discussions with their patients about the benefits and harms of screening mammography. [3] Their premise is that the majority of discussions focus on the possibility of avoiding death from breast cancer, and do not include a discussion of false alarms nor overdiagnosis. The authors used currently available data from trials of screening mammography to give a range of estimates for harms and benefits with the hope that this information would help decisions about screening. Their results are summarized in this table. Note that the numbers are per-one-thousand women, screened yearly for 10 years:

Figure 1: Estimates of harms and benefits of screening mammography

We received mixed feedback from physicians who read this POEM. Some physicians were grateful to have empiric data to help them in their discussions with patients. One wrote it is “helpful to have the actual numbers presented in such a way that I can share info with the patient when discussing mammograms and screening - always easier when there are numbers that we can look at”, and these numbers “make discussion around breast cancer more objective”. However, others wrote that even though “it is much easier to communicate this information to a patient by simply selecting the age group she falls into, and presenting the numbers for that group [...], I have not yet had a patient who didn't just simply choose the mammogram”. It seems that numbers do not tell the entire story… “because this is an emotional issue, most women we counsel opt for the regular screening”.

The importance of this topic to primary care is high, because as one CMA member wrote “the harms of false positives are seen first-hand in primary care”.
 

CLINICAL QUESTION: “How accurately does a midstream urine culture predict the results of a catheterized urine culture? POEM Title: Interpretation of midstream urine cultures in healthy young women with suspected UTI”

What about the practice of empirically treating suspected urinary tract infection in otherwise healthy women without relying on culture? In a diagnostic test evaluation study, midstream urine cultures with any evidence of E. coli or K. pneumoniae strongly suggested a true infection, while the presence of enterococci or group B streptococci had little predictive value. [4]

Feedback from physicians who read this POEM showed appreciation for the findings and included comments such as this one: “As a walk-in clinic doctor, urinary symptoms are a very common reason for visits. I routinely treat women on spec for these UTI's and don't send their urine for culture unless it is a complicated UTI, the patient has significant comorbidities, or the patient has recently been on antibiotics.”

The practice of empirically treating suspected urinary tract infection in otherwise healthy women without relying on culture was recommended in a recent review by Grigoryan et al. [5] Her group reviewed the optimal approach for treating acute cystitis in young healthy women and analyzed studies totalling 259 397 patients. This showed that “immediate antimicrobial therapy is recommended rather than delayed treatment or symptom management with ibuprofen alone”.

This choosing-wisely-approach to a common infection was perfectly summarized in this comment submitted by another physician: “great info [in this POEM]. Sometimes we just do too much testing”.
 

Conclusion
 

As we reflect on all this, we see that even if one test “can’t hurt”, at scale the impact can be large for publicly funded health care systems. This point has been made by others. For example, Kale et al showed how “routine” diagnostics tests cost large sums of money. [6] Primary health care faces a big challenge in reconsidering how diagnostic testing is used, to ensure better value for all.
 

References
 

1. Grad RM, Pluye P, Tang DL, Shulha M, Slawson DC, Shaughnessy AF. 'POEMs’ suggest potential clinical topics for the Choosing Wisely Campaign. Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine 2015;28:184-189. http://www.jabfm.org/content/28/2/184

2. Pecina J, Garrison GM, Bernard ME. Levothyroxine dosage is associated with stability of thyroid-stimulating hormone values. Am J Med 2014;127(3):240-245 http://www.amjmed.com/article/S0002-9343(13)01021-8/abstract

3. Welch HG, Passow HJ. Quantifying the benefits and harms of screening mammography. JAMA Intern Med 2014; Dec 30 http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1792915

4. Hooton TM, Roberts PL, Cox ME, Stapleton AE. Voided midstream urine culture and acute cystitis in premenopausal women. N Engl J Med 2013;369(20):1883-1891 http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1302186

5. Grigoryan L, Trautner BW, Gupta K. Diagnosis and Management of Urinary Tract Infections in the Outpatient Setting. JAMA. 2014;312(16):1677-1684. http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1917443

6. Kale MS, Bishop TF, Federman AD, Keyhani S. "Top 5" lists top $5 billion. Arch Intern Med 2011;171(20):1856-1858

Choosing surgery wisely: the importance of evidence-based practice

* RESEARCH FIRST LOOK *

Very little research has been done so far in the area of appropriateness in health care, so it is is always a delight to see what is being worked on.

You may remember Roland Grad, a family physician and research at the University of McGill, from his poster on harnessing InfoPOEMS to find potential topics for the Choosing Wisely Campaign.

Two ambitious McGill medical students, Nicholas Meti and Mathieu Rousseau, worked with Dr Grad to extend that work and look at InfoPOEMs that dealt specifically with surgical interventions which are considered unnecessary or harmful to patients.

Many agree that there's room for the Choosing Wisely campaign to improve; this research presents a potentially fruitful way to do so, particularly for the orthopaedics recommendations which have been heavily criticized to date.


Choosing surgery wisely: the importance of evidence-based practice

Meti, N., Rousseau, M., Grad, R. Medicine, McGill University, Montreal, Canada.

An emerging trend among physician organizations is to attempt to control or reduce the rate of unnecessary medical tests and treatments. Until recently, the principle manner to release updated recommendations for practice was through meetings where experts discussed which tests or treatments needed to be questioned.  

We developed a novel means of analyzing nascent research articles for their applicability towards improving the “Choosing Wisely” topic selection process [1]. This method is based on analyzing the ratings of daily POEMs, collected from physician members of the CMA. POEMs are tailored synopses of primary research or systematic reviews, selected by searching over 100 journals. POEMs are delivered to over 20,000 members of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) by email on weekdays.

At the 2015 ‘Preventing Overdiagnosis’ conference, one of us (RG) will report on the top POEMs of 2014, as rated by CMA members with respect to their potential to help them to ‘avoid an unnecessary diagnostic test or treatment’ [1]. Of the topics addressed by these top 20 POEMs of 2014, only 2 were discussed in the Choosing Wisely master list of recommendations. Of the remaining 18 topics, three were related to surgical interventions; we highlight their important findings.

In a study published in The Bone and Joint Journal, Kukkonen et al. used the Constant Shoulder Score to show that among patients with symptomatic non-traumatic supraspinatus tears, physiotherapy alone is as effective as physiotherapy combined with acromioplasty after 1-year follow up [2].

In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Sihvoven et al. investigated whether arthroscopic surgery would improve outcomes for select patients with a degenerative tear of the medial meniscus. The researchers conducted a multicenter, randomized, double-blind, sham-controlled trial involving patients without knee osteoarthritis, but with symptoms of a degenerative medial meniscus tear. Surgery was found to be ineffective for non-traumatic partial medial meniscus tears [3].

A study published in JAMA by Primrose et al. [4] questioned the routine practice of intensive follow-up after surgery for colorectal cancer, as there existed no evidence to support this common practice. In a randomized controlled trial, 1,202 participants were assigned to 4 groups: CEA only, CT only, CEA+CT, or minimum follow-up. Their results demonstrated that among patients who had undergone curative surgery for primary colorectal cancer: 1) intensive imaging or CEA screening each provided an increased rate of surgical treatment of recurrence with curative intent, compared with minimal follow-up; 2) there was no advantage in combining CEA and CT; and 3) there was no statistically significant survival advantage to any strategy.

One concern about the development of top five lists in Choosing Wisely is the potential for individual specialties to choose the low hanging fruit. For example, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons included no major surgical procedures in their top 5 list, despite evidence of wide variation in elective knee replacement and arthroscopy rates [5]. This observation is not meant to be a criticism of orthopedic surgeons per se, as many surgeons are strong advocates for their patients (see http://www.thepatientfirst.org). [Less is More readers will remember one of the founders, Dr James Rickert, from What Can Patients Do in the Face of Physician Conflict of Interest]

Our point is to drive home the underlying philosophy of the “Choosing Wisely” campaign: ‘routine’ testing or treatment without evidence-based support can be found insidiously entrenched in all disciplines.


References

1. Grad RM, Pluye P, Shulha M, Tang DL. POEMs Reveal Candidate Clinical Topics for the Choosing Wisely Campaign. Preventing Overdiagnosis Conference, Bethesda, MD, September 2015.

2. Kukkonen J, Joukainen A, Lehtinen J, et al. Treatment of non-traumatic rotator cuff tears: A randomised controlled trial with one-year clinical results. Bone Joint J 2014; 96(1):75-81.  
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24395315

3. Sihvonen R, Paavola M, Malmivaara A, et al., for the Finnish Degenerative Meniscal Lesion Study (FIDELITY) Group. Arthroscopic partial meniscectomy versus sham surgery for a degenerative meniscal tear. N Engl J Med 2013; 369(26):2515-2524.    http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1305189

4. Primrose JN, Perera R, Gray A, et al., for the FACS Trial Investigators. Effect of 3 to 5 years of scheduled CEA and CT follow-up to detect recurrence of colorectal cancer. The FACS randomized clinical trial. JAMA 2014; 311(3): 263-270. 
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24430319

5. Morden NE, Colla CH, Sequist TD, Rosenthal MB. Choosing Wisely—the politics and economics of labeling low-value service. N Engl J Med 2014; 370:589-92. 
http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1314965

BMJ Blogs: Six proposals for EBM’s future

Dr Paul Glasziou is a Professor of Evidence-Based Medicine at Bond University in Australia. He speaks and writes mainly about the translation of health research into clinical practice.

His latest contribution to the BMJ Blog is a look at the future of evidence-based medicine (EBM). As its era fades into another, it becomes apparent that there is still a huge gap between what research tells us and what doctors and patients wind up doing.

Sometimes the known evidence is biased, of poor quality, or doesn't actually have any relevance for our patient. Sometimes, we have strong evidence about what is clinically 'correct' but we have forgotten to remember that each patient is an individual, with unique goals and life circumstances. Sometimes, we get so caught up in chasing the potential benefits of something that we fail to realize it could be causing more harm than good.

Read Dr Glaszious' Six Proposals for EBM's future, as he tackles these tough issues and helps to guide us back to a place where research improves care.

Source: http://blogs.bmj.com/ce/2015/03/27/six-pro...

Update: POEMs help identify clinical practices for the Choosing Wisely Campaign

Update: Grad et al's paper is now published! View the full text: Patient-Oriented Evidence that Matters (POEMs) Suggest Potential Clinical Topics for the Choosing WiselyCampaign in JABFM.

[this blog post below was originally published Nov 24, 2014]


It can be challenging to cultivate topics for the Choosing Wisely Campaign; Montréal family physician and researcher Dr. Roland Grad (bio) and his group have found a unique way to harness an existing tool to do so easily.

Dr Grad presented a poster at the Family Medicine Forum (FMF) indicating one way forward could employ physician ratings of Patient-Oriented Evidence that Matters (POEMs).

POEMs are short summaries of relevant and valid information for clinicians. These are free for Canadian Medical Association (CMA) members (login to cma.ca, click on your name, and go to the Manage Newsletters section) and are basically quick reads with commentary on recent clinical trials, systematic reviews, etc. [Non-CMA members can go to Essential Evidence Plus]

Grad, Pluye, Shulha and Tang focused on one item on the validated questionnaire used by physicians to evaluate POEMs, which asked whether the POEM helped the practitioner in ‘avoiding an unnecessary diagnostic test or treatment’.

They identified the top 20 POEMs in each of two years most commonly associated with helping avoid unnecessary tests or treatment. Interestingly, only 11 of the 40 POEMs had a corresponding item on the Choosing Wisely master list.

[short version: there's a huge collection of already identified practice-changing recommendations just ripe for the adding to a campaign like Choosing Wisely!]

Their process provides an easy way to gather possible topics for future Choosing Wisely lists and could aid in the expert panel approach.

The group's paper is now in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.

Disutility: Finding the balance between benefit and hassle

James McCormack (@medmyths, The Best Science Medicine Podcast) sent me a great article: "Patient-Accessible Tool for Shared Decision Making in Cardiovascular Primary Prevention."

The UK group looked at the problem of patients discontinuing medication and focussed in particular on statins for primary prevention of cardiovascular events. A lot of research assumes that the 'burden' of taking a pill is a negligible factor in medication adherence, but these researchers thought otherwise. They surveyed 360 people to see how they might balance their potential cardiac risk with the 'disutility' of a preventative, once a day medication as intervention. Paraphrasing, they wanted to know:

how much longer would a person need to live (thanks to a medication) in order to make it worth the hassle of taking the medication

The article is worth sharing because it introduced a few new ideas to me:

  • "disutility" : a word the researchers use to capture the idea of inconvenience or burden of care
  • there is some good evidence that educating people more and more about their risk will not change their adherence to medication
  • talking about reasons they would not want to take the medication may be more important
  • as every person has a different tolerance of disutility, individualized discussions (shared decision-making) still remains a good strategy
  • for people who fall in the middle ground when balancing utility and disutility, factors like gender, smoking, blood pressure, and cholesterol factor into the decision whereas they do not for those with high or low disutility

Figure 4.

Disutility vs utility. Frequency distribution of disutility, longevity benefit that subjects expressed a desire to make tablet therapy worthwhile (top), and the frequency distribution of utility, actual expected gain in lifespan from statin therapy in the English population (bottom). The difference between the 2 values is the net benefit of tablet therapy. Because utility has a very much narrower spectrum than disutility, for those with a high disutility, regardless of utility, statins are a net harm; for those with low disutility, regardless of utility statins are a net benefit. It is only for those in the middle gray zone (top) that sex, smoking status, blood pressure, and cholesterol are the deciding factors.

Read the full article here, in Circulation. 

If you are very interested in the idea of 'disutility,' you may enjoy Dr Victor Montori (@vmontori)'s work on "Minimally Disruptive Medicine."

The one chart you need to (begin to) understand any health study

Jullia Belluz, common-sense and evidence-oriented journalist (known to me from her great "Science-ish" Maclean's column) and Trudeau Scholar and Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Ottawa, Steven Hoffman, team up in their Burden of Proof column for Vox.

This week, in "The one chart you need to understand any health study" they help readers with a simple approach to understanding how to evaluate levels of evidence. Not all research is created equally:

This is a chart from the article, modified slightly. It has been beautifully "enhanced" with the added last line by Peter Cook,  @DoodlePeter . I couldn't resist sharing Peter's version!

This is a chart from the article, modified slightly. It has been beautifully "enhanced" with the added last line by Peter Cook, @DoodlePeter. I couldn't resist sharing Peter's version!

I think the chart it is a good start, and I wish it were as simple as this. Some sneaky (or inept) researchers are good at making trials look randomized, blinded, and so on but the controls, conflicts of interest, low study numbers, etc. mean that the data they gather is not very useful at all. Sometimes, the way the papers are written, it's easy to think of the conclusion as groundbreaking and accurate, but digging deeper into the methods it becomes clear that the authors did a little.... 'creative interpretation'.

Even the highest form of evidence comes in different flavours:

Not all systematic reviews are created equally, either.

And while some evidence is stronger than other evidence, it doesn't necessarily mean anything when it comes to applying it to you, the individual. Fortunately, Ms Belluz and Mr Hoffman get it.

Even with the best available evidence from around the world at our disposal, we have to analyze it and apply it to our particular circumstances. A personal experience with the success or failure of a drug, like an allergic reaction, is more informative for you than the most rigorous study on the drug ever could be. 

It can be challenging to spot issues with quality amongst the jargon and statistics. It is so refreshing to see journalists like Julia Belluz who get this and who are raising the bar for colleagues to be responsible with their science reporting.

Follow @JuliaOfToronto and @SHoffmania on Twitter

 

Source: http://www.vox.com/2015/1/5/7482871/types-...

CHANGE Alberta: Reversing Metabolic Syndrome with Exercise and Diet

The whole point of a "Less is More" approach to Medicine is to focus on things that really help people live well. If we take resources from unnecessary tests and treatments, we could instead invest in social determinants of health, preventative health, and the tests and treatments that actually make a difference to the quality (and quantity) of people's lives.

It's no secret that an active lifestyle and a reasonable diet correlate with better physical and mental health. While unfortunately the studies have not been yet done to show that exercise prevents cardiovascular events in people with increased cardiovascular risk, we do know that generally, people who exercise can gain up to 4.5 years of life compared with sedentary counterparts. However, it is very hard for family doctors, and even NPs who may have a bit more time with each patient, to help patients alter their eating and exercise habits in a meaningful and lasting way.

Enter CHANGE Alberta. The Canadian Health Advanced by Nutrition and Graded Exercise (CHANGE) Alberta project seeks to find a way to reverse metabolic syndrome by supporting patients with nutrition and activity plans. Explore the website to learn more about the team-based approach, involving dieticians and kinesiologists, that they employed in primary health care settings.

I met Dr. Doug Klein (@DrDougKlein) at the Family Medicine Forum in Quebec in November, where he was sharing their promising results; with 302 patients enrolled, at one year, 28% had reversal of Metabolic Syndrome and overall 52.4% had reversal of at least one feature of Metabolic Syndrome.

Is this something you could integrate into your primary health clinic?