Is identification of smoking, risky alcohol consumption and overweight and obesity by General Practitioners improving? A comparison over time

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Abstract

Background.

Detection of lifestyle risk factors by GPs is the first step required for intervention. Despite significant investment in preventive health care in general practice, little is known about whether GP detection of lifestyle risk factors have improved over time.

Objectives.

To examine whether sensitivity and specificity of GP detection of smoking, risky alcohol consumption and overweight and obesity has increased in patients presenting to see their GP, by comparing results from four Australian studies conducted between 1982 and 2011.

Methods.

Demographic characteristics of patient and GP samples and the prevalence, sensitivity and specificity of detection of each risk factor were extracted from published studies. Differences between GP and patient sample characteristics were examined. To identify trends over time in prevalence of risk factors, sensitivity and specificity of detection across studies and the Cochran–Armitage test for trend were calculated for each risk factor for the overall sample and by male and female subgroups.

Results.

There were no statistically significant changes in the sensitivity of GP detection of smoking or overweight or obesity over time. Specificity of detection of smoking increased from 64.7% to 98% (P < 0.0001) and decreased for overweight or obesity from 92% to 89% (P = 0.01). There was a small decrease in the sensitivity of detection of alcohol consumption (P = 0.02) and an increase in specificity (P = 0.01).

Conclusions.

Despite significant investment to increase GP detection and intervention for lifestyle risk factors, accurate detection of smoking, risky alcohol consumption and overweight and obesity occurs for less than two-thirds of all patients.

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