Go to content

Physician characteristics associated with ordering 4 low-value screening tests in primary care


Importance — 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.

Objectives — To measure physician-level use rates across 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 healthcare 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.

Exposures — 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).

Results — 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.



Bouck Z, Ferguson J, Ivers NM, Kerr EA, Shojania KG, Kim M, Cram P, Pendrith C, Mecredy GC, Glazier RH, Tepper J, Austin PC, Martin D, Levinson W, Bhatia RS. JAMA Netw Open. 2018; 1(6):e183506. Epub 2018 Oct 12.

Associated Sites