Monday, February 19, 2018

Enthusiasm should not outweigh evidence on vitamin D

- Kenny Lin, MD, MPJH

In 2005, Dr. Mark Ebell authored an AFP editorial on the rise and fall of vitamin E, subtitled "lessons in patient-oriented evidence." Observational studies associated lower vitamin E levels with coronary artery disease, leading many physicians to recommend that patients take vitamin E supplements for cardiovascular protection. 19 randomized, controlled trials later, the verdict was in: vitamin E supplementation actually increased all-cause deaths. Dr. Ebell viewed the "vitamin E saga" as an instructive cautionary tale:

It is important to remember that biochemical theory does not equal clinical benefit. Improvements in disease-oriented outcomes, such as free-radical activity, are no substitute for patient-oriented outcomes, such as all-cause mortality. Sometimes our enthusiasm for unproven treatments may harm our patients.


Physicians and patients, it turns out, were already turning to testing and treatment with another vitamin that was a marker of chronic health conditions in observational studies: vitamin D. Between 2000 and 2010, the volume of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels in Medicare patients increased 83-fold, and by 2014, 4 out of 10 adults 70 years or older reported taking a daily vitamin D supplement of at least 1,000 IU, and nearly 7 percent of adults over 60 were taking more than 4,000 IUs daily, a level that the National Academy of Medicine considers to be potentially toxic.

Unfortunately, the vitamin D saga has much in common with the vitamin E saga. According to a review article in the February 15th issue of AFP by Drs. Michael LeFevre and Nicholas LeFevre, vitamin D supplementation in community-dwelling adults has not demonstrated any benefits for ischemic heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, or cancer in clinical trials. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the American Academy of Family Physicians concluded that there is inadequate evidence that supplements improve psychosocial or physical functioning in persons with lower vitamin D levels.

In an accompanying editorial, I argued that the harms of routine screening and supplementation with vitamin D outweigh the benefits, especially when the costs of testing (more than $300 million annually in Medicare alone) are considered:

It is time for clinicians and patients to curb our enthusiasm for vitamin D screening and supplementation. Strategies to decrease unnecessary testing could include distributing the patient handout on vitamin D tests created by Consumer Reports for the Choosing Wisely campaign and implementing clinical decision support for ordering laboratory tests. ... Family physicians should also counsel patients on the recommended dietary allowance for vitamin D (600 IU per day in adults 70 years and younger, and 800 IU per day in adults older than 70 years), and discourage most patients from using supplements, especially in dosages near or above the tolerable upper limit of 4,000 IU per day.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Treating and preventing disease with dietary fiber

- Jennifer Middleton, MD, MPH

The current issue of AFP includes a review article on Hemorrhoids: Diagnosis and Treatment Options that discusses the roles fiber intake has both in contributing to hemorrhoids (when too low) and treating them (when appropriately increased). The authors recommend that patients with hemorrhoids increase their fiber intake to 25-35 grams per day and provide a link to a handout listing high fiber foods. As a high fiber diet can also help prevent and treat hyperlipidemia, constipation, and diverticulosis, family physicians should be proficient in discussing this important digestive component with patients.

Adequate daily fiber intake may protect against the development of hyperlipidemia. Children with chronic constipation consume less fiber than their peers with normal bowel patterns. Inadequate fiber intake is associated with the development of diverticulosis, which can put patients at risk for diverticulitis.

Increasing dietary fiber can modestly reduce LDL levels, improve constipation, and, along with exercise and weight loss if indicated, reduce the risk of recurrent diverticulitis. (Of note, a Cochrane meta-analysis found no role for using fiber supplementation to improve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.) Increasing fiber by increasing consumption of high-fiber whole foods, and not with fiber product supplementation, provides the most benefit.

Most Americans consume less than half of those recommended 25-35 grams of fiber daily, though many are trying to increase their consumption by choosing more fruits, vegetables, and whole grain products. Unfortunately, many products marketed as "whole grain" in the United States contain very little fiber. We should counsel patients to look beyond claims about whole grain content and examine food labels to choose products with a minimum of 3 grams of fiber per serving. Advising patients, also, to gradually increase their fiber intake may help them minimize the unpleasantness of bloating and excess flatulence that can accompany a rapid change in fiber consumption. Patients may find nutrition tracking apps such as My Diet Coach, reviewed in the current issue of Family Practice Management, to be useful in monitoring their daily fiber intake. Other apps such as (Fooducate and Shopwellcan help patients make more informed choices at the grocery store.

Providing specific advice in the context of motivational interviewing increases our patients' likelihood of success at making any behavioral modification stick; there's an AFP By Topic on Health Maintenance and Counseling as well as an AFP By Topic on Nutrition if you'd like to read more. What resources have you found useful to help patients increase their daily fiber intake?

Friday, February 2, 2018

The changing of the guard: from Dr. Siwek to Dr. Sexton

- Kenny Lin, MD, MPH

The February 1 issue of AFP marked the first time since 1988 that a family physician other than Dr. Jay Siwek was serving as the journal's editor-in-chief. Dr. Siwek, who bade farewell to readers in a poignant, memory-filled editorial in the January 15 issue, will stay on as editor emeritus. This month, Dr. Siwek introduced his successor, longtime associate editor Dr. Sumi Makkar Sexton. You can read about Dr. Sexton's extensive qualifications and experience in Dr. Siwek's latest piece, and learn about her plans for the future of AFP, which include making journal content more usable at the point of care, in her introductory editorial.

It has been my good fortune to know Jay and Sumi for the past 14 years, since I arrived at Georgetown University School of Medicine as AFP's medical editing fellow in the summer of 2004. Both played critical roles in my development as a family physician and medical editor, during and after my one-year fellowship. It was Jay, in his previous capacity as Chair of Georgetown's Department of Family Medicine, who hired me as a junior faculty member and supported each of my subsequent promotions to assistant, associate, and full professor. After I left the department for several years to work as a medical officer at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and earn a master's degree in public health, it was Jay who convinced me to return and deploy my new skills to direct the department's health policy fellowship and eventually take on other leadership and teaching positions in population health.

On the other hand, it was Sumi, as the editor of Tips from Other Journals (an AFP department that ended in 2013) who continued to hone my writing and evidence-based medicine skills for years after my fellowship ended. Under her supervision, from 2005 to 2010 I wrote more than 60 summaries of primary care-relevant research studies for AFP. And after my first post-fellowship clinical position unexpectedly fell through, it was Sumi who hired me to see patients at her thriving practice, Premier Primary Care Physicians, which was an early adopter of innovations such as electronic medical records and advanced-access scheduling.

As AFP's new deputy editor, I have worked closely with Sumi and Jay for the past several months to support their changing of the guard at editor-in-chief, and I look forward to many more years of collaborating with them both. Moving on from Dr. Siwek to Dr. Sexton is an important transition, but the best-read journal in primary care won't miss a beat.

Monday, January 29, 2018

What's new in opioid prescribing, treatment, and education?

- Jennifer Middleton, MD, MPH

Coverage regarding the opioid epidemic shows no sign of slowing, and a flurry of articles this month -- 5 articles across 4 different Family Medicine journals -- bring several important insights and tools for family physicians to consider incorporating into their practices.

The first is an editorial published online in AFP this past week on "Treating Opioid Use Disorder as a Family Physician: Taking the Next Step." The editorial reviews 12 different models for providing buprenorphine-based medication assisted therapy (MAT) for opioid addiction in a primary care office, including outpatient models, inpatient models, and models that both do and don't incorporate behavioral counseling. Project ECHO is one model that may appeal to rural physicians, as it connects physicians interested in providing this treatment with experts via the internet. The editorial also includes a table with several valuable resources for physicians providing MAT, including the American Society of Addiction Medicine's website which has a wealth of resources for both physicians and patients.

A cross-sectional study regarding "Prescription Opioid Use and Satisfaction with Care Among Adults with Musculoskeletal Conditions" in the Annals of Family Medicine found greater satisfaction associated with prescription opioid use. The authors examined 6 years of data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey for adults with documented musculoskeletal diagnoses; patients receiving prescription opioid medications had higher patient satisfaction scores than those not receiving opioids (odds ratio = 1.32; 95% confidence interval, 1.18–1.49). The authors found that patients taking opioids reported more pain and greater disability, however, than those not taking opioids and cautioned that:
"The lack of an association between opioid prescribing and improvements in pain on a population health level has been highlighted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who report that since 1999, the quantity of prescription opioids sold in the United States has almost quadrupled, yet there has not been an overall change in the amount of pain that Americans actually report."
Two articles examining office-based strategies for managing patients on chronic opioids in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine each share interesting insights. "Structured Management of Chronic Nonmalignant Pain with Opioids in a Rural Primary Care Office" describes a rigorous office process required of all patients receiving chronic opioid prescriptions, including administration of several validated scales at each visit (Brief Pain Inventory Short Form, Zung depression scale, SOAPP-R diversion risk assessment tool, and the Roland disability rating scale for back pain), a standard patient handout describing opioid risks, and a standardized documentation template. This approach increased compliance with state and federal opioid prescribing regulations and also decreased the total number of opioid prescriptions written by their office. "Impact of Pharmacist Previsit Input to Providers on Chronic Opioid Prescribing Safety" found that adding a pharmacist previsit to appointments for chronic pain decreased overall opioid prescribing with no change in reported patient pain scores.

Finally, from the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine's Family Medicine journal comes "Teaching Chronic Pain in the Family Medicine Residency," a cross-sectional survey of Family Medicine residency program directors about their program's curricula regarding chronic pain. With a 53% response rate of program directors from across the United States, they found that an average of 33 hours (with a wide range of 2-180 hours across programs) of curricular time is devoted to teaching about chronic pain in Family Medicine residencies. The authors hypothesized that residency programs with directors who had negative attitudes about chronic pain and/or MAT would provide less education on these subjects, but this hypothesis was not borne out in their findings; the only predictor of higher curricular time, interestingly, was a strong belief in the benefit of nonopioid treatments for chronic pain. The wide range of curricular hours across the US suggests that residency programs have some work to do to validate and standardize effective teaching on this important subject.

Which of these ideas and/or tools will you consider incorporating into your own practice? Or, perhaps, you have a different model of success to share with AFP readers; we welcome your comments below.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Should your next prescription be a mobile app?

- Kenny Lin, MD, MPH

Earlier this month, a blog post from Dr. Jennifer Middleton highlighted recent content in AFP that can help family physicians support patients' resolutions to make healthy lifestyle changes. Increasingly, I also recommend that patients consider using smartphone apps to give them extra motivation and allow them to chart their progress toward personal goals. The latest in a series of articles on medical apps in FPM reviewed four mobile apps designed to encourage healthy habits, including healthy eating, physical fitness, substituting water for sugary drinks, and taking prescribed medications. Although the evidence that apps provide greater benefits than usual care remains limited (a randomized trial of a fitness app reviewed previously by FPM found no statistical differences in weight loss, blood pressure, or satisfaction), "digital therapy" is now being used to promote wellness and improve self-management of chronic conditions as diverse as substance use disorder and atrial fibrillation.

A draft technical brief issued by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reviewed the evidence on health outcomes for 11 commercially available mobile apps for self-management of type 1 or type 2 diabetes. For five apps, studies demonstrated clinically significant improvements in hemoglobin A1c levels at 3 to 12 months. However, no studies showed improvements in quality of life, blood pressure, weight, or body mass index.

Regarding apps for clinicians, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clarified in a recent guidance document how it intends to treat digital decision support software going forward. Software that functions as a diagnostic device will be regulated, while digital tools that merely assist clinicians in making diagnoses will be excluded from regulation and "cleared" for use. On its website, the FDA provides a list of examples of mobile medical apps that it has cleared or approved to date.

Whether mobile apps will complement traditional prevention, diagnosis and treatment in primary care, or replace them, remains to be seen. Do you routinely prescribe apps to your patients, and do you expect to do so more often in the future?

Monday, January 15, 2018

Supporting family physicians who provide maternity care

- Jennifer Middleton, MD, MPH

An editorial on Immediate Postpartum LARC: An Underused Contraceptive Option in the current issue of AFP has generated a lot of interest. Several comments have been left online, and (as of this writing), all of them are quite positive. At a time when family physicians' interest in obstetrics (OB) continues to wane, these commenters exemplify the vibrant community of family physicians who do choose to provide OB care; as a specialty, we should support these physicians and the often underserved communities they care for.

Family physicians who attend deliveries are a critical component of improving the health of rural communities. Obstetrician/gynecologists (OB/GYNs) tend to cluster in metropolitan areas, with many rural counties in the United States reporting that family physicians are their only source for OB care. Supporting training opportunities in residency is critical to encouraging future family physicians to consider including OB in their practices; exposure to models of care like prenatal group visits and physician group coverage models may reduce concerns about the feasibility of doing so.

Even those of us who do not attend deliveries, however, have an obligation to advocate for those who do. Several of the comments left on the current AFP LARC editorial point to the need for state and national advocacy efforts to eliminate reimbursement barriers to providing this valuable service. This advocacy does not have to be time-consuming or burdensome; it's easy to send messages to your state AFP chapter and/or state legislators.

We also have an obligation to support preconception and prenatal care. All family physicians should discuss contraception and family planning with not only our expecting patients but all of our patients of child-bearing age. We should encourage folic acid supplementation for all women capable of pregnancy. We should discuss healthy birth spacing intervals at well child visits. There's an AFP By Topic on Family Planning and Contraception if you'd like to read more.

The comments regarding the LARC editorial enriched future readers' experience with their ideas and references. The ability to comment on articles online is one way you can directly engage with AFP; find us on Facebook and Twitter to join those conversations. Don't forget, too, about the opportunity to comment below here on the Community Blog every week.