Diabetic patients with inadequate glycemic control ought to have their management intensified. Failure to do so can be termed "clinical inertia." Because data suggest that specialist care results in better control than primary care, this study evaluated whether specialists demonstrated less clinical inertia than primary care physicians.
Using administrative data, researchers studied all non-insulin-requiring diabetic patients in eastern Ontario aged 65 or older who had A1c results >8% between September 1999 and August 2000. Drug intensification was measured by comparing glucose-lowering drug regimens in four-month blocks before and after the elevated A1c test and was defined as 1) the addition of a new oral drug, 2) a dose increase of an existing oral drug, or 3) the initiation of insulin. Propensity score-based matching was used to control for confounding between groups. There were 591 patients with specialist care and 1,911 with exclusively primary care. In the matched cohorts, 45.1% of patients with specialist care versus 37.4% with primary care had drug intensification (P = 0.009). Most of this difference was attributed to specialists’ more frequent initiation of insulin in response to elevated A1c.
Fewer than one-half of patients with high A1c levels had intensification of their medications, regardless of specialty of their physician. Specialists were more aggressive with insulin initiation than primary care physicians, which may contribute to the lower A1c levels seen with specialist care. Interventions assisting patients and physicians to recognize and overcome clinical inertia should improve diabetes care in the population.