Many health care professionals are not following current, evidence-based guidelines to screen for and diagnose hypertension, and appear to have substantial gaps in knowledge, beliefs, and use of recommended practices, results from a large survey suggest.
“One surprising finding was that there was so much trust in the stethoscope, because the automated monitors are a better way to take blood pressure,” lead author Beverly Green, MD, of Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute, Seattle, said in an interview.
The results of the survey were presented Sept. 10 at the virtual joint scientific sessions of the American Heart Association Council on Hypertension, AHA Council on Kidney in Cardiovascular Disease, and American Society of Hypertension.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) and the American Heart Association/American College of Cardiology recommend out-of-office blood pressure measurements – via ambulatory blood pressure monitoring (ABPM) or home BP monitoring – before making a new diagnosis of hypertension.
To gauge provider knowledge, beliefs, and practices related to BP diagnostic tests, the researchers surveyed 282 providers: 102 medical assistants (MA), 28 licensed practical nurses (LPNs), 33 registered nurses (RNs), 86 primary care physicians, and 33 advanced practitioners (APs).
More than three-quarters of providers (79%) felt that BP measured manually with a stethoscope and ABPM were “very or highly” accurate ways to measure BP when making a new diagnosis of hypertension.
Most did not think that automated clinic BPs, home BP, or kiosk BP measurements were very or highly accurate.
Nearly all providers surveyed (96%) reported that they “always or almost always” rely on clinic BP measurements when diagnosing hypertension, but the majority of physicians/APs would prefer using ABPM (61%) if available.
The problem with ABPM, said Dr. Green, is “it’s just not very available or convenient for patients, and a lot of providers think that patients won’t tolerate it.” Yet, without it, there is a risk for misclassification, she said.
Karen A. Griffin, MD, who chairs the AHA Council on Hypertension, said it became “customary to use clinic BP since ABPM was not previously reimbursed for the routine diagnosis of hypertension.
“Now that the payment for ABPM has been expanded, the number of machines at most institutions is not adequate for the need. Consequently, it will take some time to catch up with the current guidelines for diagnosing hypertension,” she said in an interview.
The provider survey by Dr. Green and colleagues also shows slow uptake of updated thresholds for high blood pressure.
Eighty-four percent of physicians/APs and 68% of MA/LPN/RNs said they used a clinic BP threshold of at least 140/90 mm Hg for making a new diagnosis of hypertension.
Only 3.5% and 9.0%, respectively, reported using the updated threshold of at least 130/80 mm Hg put forth in 2017.
Dr. Griffin said part of this stems from the fact that the survey began before the updated guidelines were released in 2017, “not to mention the fact that some societies have opposed the new threshold of 130/80 mm Hg.”
“I think, with time, the data on morbidity and mortality associated with the goal of 130/80 mm Hg will hopefully convince those who have not yet implemented these new guidelines that it is a safe and effective BP goal,” Dr. Griffin said.
This research had no specific funding. Dr. Green and Dr. Griffin have no relevant disclosures.
A version of this article originally appeared on Medscape.com.