One of the nation's largest managed care companies found that its physicians routinely fail to give patients drugs and tests proven to work against conditions ranging from heart disease to diabetes.
United HealthCare looked at patient records of 1,600 cardiologists and internists in Colorado, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas. It reviewed treatment of diabetes, congestive heart failure, heart attack and atrial fibrillation, prescription of diuretics and mammography screening.It found that many cardiologists failed to prescribe widely recommended drugs such as beta blockers for heart attack survivors and ACE inhibitors for chronic heart-failure patients. Current medical literature says the drugs are essential in most cases to a patient's continued health.
Care was also found to be wanting for diabetics.
Doctors gave glucose-monitoring tests to 59 percent of diabetics in Ohio, 60 percent in North Carolina, 65 percent in Colorado and 67 percent in Texas during one year.
It is generally recommended that diabetics get at least one glucose-monitoring test per year. Otherwise, diabetic patients can go blind, suffer strokes or heart attacks, require amputations or experience kidney failure.
United HealthCare spokesman Phil Soucheray said Wednesday there were some flaws in the data, but "we feel the numbers were good enough to show there are areas of concern that need to be addressed."
United said the information was gathered to allow doctors to evaluate whether care needs to be improved.
About 8 percent of United's 200,000 doctors nationwide were surveyed. The company plans to extend the survey to 20,000 doctors by the end of the year and by next year hopes to survey most doctors in its network.
The findings echoed previous research that said medical care for average Americans often is not up to accepted standards.
"I personally think it's a good idea. It gives you an idea of where you stand," said Dr. Michael Hogan, an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.
Some doctors said the survey shows medical technology is developing too fast for many doctors to keep up. Others said it points to the need for national standards that all doctors should follow when treating certain illnesses.