Missed opportunities for prevention in general internal medicine

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BackgroundAccording to the Canadian Society of Internal Medicine, the Canadian general internist is in the ideal position to promote patient health through disease prevention. To explore the general internist's contribution to disease prevention, the authors quantified the extent to which opportunities for prevention were addressed by the general internal medicine (GIM) service in an acute care teaching hospital in Calgary.MethodsThe authors interviewed 100 adult patients before discharge from the hospital's GIM service between May 14, 1997, and Dec. 2, 1997. The number of potential opportunities for preventive intervention were identified for each patient from 10 possible interventions recommended by the Canadian Task Force on the Periodic Health Examination (now the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care): breast cancer screening, Papanicolaou smear for cervical cancer, counselling on menopausal hormone replacement therapy, digital rectal examination for prostate cancer, smoking cessation counselling, cholesterol measurement, therapy or monitoring for hypertension, influenza vaccination, pneumococcal vaccination and colorectal cancer screening. The authors determined which interventions the patient had undergone before the current admission to hospital and, using patient recall and postdischarge medical chart review, which opportunities for intervention were addressed by the GIM service during the current admission. An opportunity for preventive intervention was considered as addressed by the GIM service if it was performed during the current admission or if the general internist informed the patient or the patient's family physician of the need for such intervention in the near future.ResultsAmong the 10 preventive interventions considered, a mean of 3.8 potential opportunities for prevention were identified for each patient. Of these, 46.5% had been addressed before the current admission, and 8.7% were addressed by the GIM service during the admission. Therefore, at the time of discharge, a mean of 55.2% of opportunities had been addressed. Among the opportunities not previously addressed, the GIM service most frequently addressed digital rectal examination for prostate cancer and cholesterol measurement.InterpretationGeneral internists are discharging patients without sufficiently addressing opportunities for disease prevention. Preventive care protocols may be needed to limit the frequency of missed opportunities for prevention in patients admitted to tertiary care GIM services.

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