Physician Utilization of Laboratory Procedures to Monitor Outpatients With Congestive Heart Failure

Jerome L. Fleg, Patricia C. Hinton, Edward G. Lakatta, Frank I. Marcus, Thomas W. Smith, Harold C. Strauss, Mark A. Hlatky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Little is known about how different types of physicians use laboratory procedures in the management of outpatients with congestive heart failure. We therefore analyzed data from a national survey of randomly selected general practitioners, internists, and cardiologists to assess their management of outpatients with New York Heart Association class II congestive heart failure. Most of the 2704 respondents (90%) scheduled office visits between two and four months apart. Body weight, serum electrolytes, and chest roentgenograms were followed regularly by 98% or more of respondents, at median intervals of one to two months, three to five months, and 12 to 17 months, respectively. Serum digoxin levels in patients taking digoxin were followed by 90% of respondents at a median interval of 12 months. Echocardiography, radionuclide ventriculography, and exercise testing were used by fewer respondents (81%, 61%, and 61%, respectively), each at a median interval of 18 months or longer. Cardiologists were significantly more likely to follow patients using either echocardiography, radionuclide ventriculography, or exercise testing. The estimated yearly cost of following a class II congestive heart failure outpatient varied nearly fourfold from the lowest quartile of physicians ($303) to the highest ($1167). Cardiologists were disproportionately represented among the high-cost users. In addition, physicians who were younger or who practiced in an urban setting were significantly more likely to be high-cost users. Thus, simple laboratory tests were used most frequently to follow patients with heart failure, but differences in use of more expensive tests led to large differences in cost. Test use for similar patients is affected by characteristics of both the physician and practice setting.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)393-396
Number of pages4
JournalArchives of internal medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1989
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


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