A high percentage of people with type 2 diabetes also have atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD), but fewer than 1 in 20 get the triumvirate of evidence-based medications – drugs to lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and glucose levels – that can mitigate the dominant health risks they face, a large multicenter cohort study reported.
The cohort consisted of 324,706 patients with diabetes and ASCVD in the National Patient-Centered Clinical Research Network in 2018.
Senior study author Christopher B. Granger, MD, said in an interview that the findings represent “a shocking underuse of treatments proven to improve outcomes in this high-risk population.” For example, he noted that high-intensity statins are “inexpensive, well tolerated, and highly effective, but the fact that they’re only used in 26.8% of this population is really an indictment and embarrassment for our health-care system.”
The study analyzed prescriptions of high-intensity statins to lower cholesterol, ACE inhibitors or angiotensin-receptor blockers (ARBs) for blood pressure, and SGLT2 inhibitors or GLP-1 receptor agonists for hyperglycemia in a population with both diabetes and ASCVD.
This study amplifies the perceived treatment gap in cardiovascular risk reduction in persons with diabetes,” Paul S. Jellinger, MD, of the Center for Diabetes and Endocrine Care in Hollywood, Fla., said in an interview. “The unfortunate treatment deficiency documented among 325,000 patients in 12 health systems is carefully quantitated and the message is loud, clear, and simple: There is gross underutilization of agents – ACE inhibitors and ARBs, SGLT-2 inhibitors, GLP-1 receptor agonists, and high-intensity statins – with definitively proven ASCVD benefit.”
In the cohort population, 44% were women and 56% were men; 18.2% were black and 12.8% were Latinx. In terms of care patterns for the 205,885 patients who had specialized visit data from the year before the study, the most (74.8%) saw a primary care physician, while only 8.7% visited an endocrinologist and 26.4% saw a cardiologist.
In terms of the prescriptions they received, 58.6% were on a statin, with less than half on a high-intensity statin; 45.5% were on either an ACE inhibitor or ARB, 3.9% received a GLP-1 receptor agonist, and 2.8% were taking a SGLT2 inhibitor.
The investigators pointed out that figure of 58.6% for patients who got a statin was significantly lower than the 74.6% reported in a study of a database of commercially insured patients, but was more in line with findings a 2018 study of patients with diabetes and ASCVD.
Only 4.8% of patients got all three types of therapies, and a high percentage (42.6%) didn’t get any prescription for the three major risk factors.
Overcoming barriers to prescriptions
The study noted that more work needs to be done to overcome the barriers to more widespread use of these therapies in patients with both diabetes and ASCVD.
Specifically with SGLT2 inhibitors and GLP-1 receptor agonists, cost was more likely to be a barrier than with the other drug groups, but that didn’t explain the low levels of high-intensity statin prescriptions, said Granger of Duke University, Durham, N.C.
The first barrier he mentioned is what he called “clinical inertia.” He said: “I’m a cardiologist who cares for these patients in my clinic each week, and there are so many different things that we need to be trying to achieve with the brief time we have with each patient in our clinic setting that people tend to miss the opportunity.”
The cost barrier, especially with the glucose-lowering therapies, can be overcome with clinic and health care system programs that aid patients in getting discounted drugs, he noted.
Other barriers Granger pointed out are lack of education – “So many people think that people with previous muscle aches can’t take a high-intensity statin, and we know that’s not true” – and misinformation, which he called “the more nefarious issue.”
He said, “Part of the problem is that misinformation travels much faster than accurate information. There’s so much out there about statins being toxic, which is just not true.”
Fragmentation of the U.S. health care system and the lack of feedback on quality measures, and physicians deferring decisions on glucose-lowering therapy to endocrinologists also pose barriers to more widespread use of evidence-based therapies in patients with diabetes and ASCVD, Granger said.
“This is a call to action,” Granger said. “By clearly describing these gaps, we hope that people will see this as an important opportunity to improve care not only at the level of individual providers, but even more importantly at the level of health systems.”
Jellinger said the “dismal results” of the study serve as a “wake-up call,” adding that “my own perception among my colleagues, along with the data referred to in this article, point to definitely higher usage among commercially insured patients. However, even in more enriched populations the message is not having its full impact. We have remarkable agents for our patients with diabetes that can make a real impact in diabetes-related morbidity and mortality. Our twofold goal should be to aggressively educate a broad slate of health care professionals and, of course, make patient access easy and affordable without ‘prior authorization.’ ”
The study noted the need to bring the prescribing patterns for patients with both diabetes and ASCVD more in line with evidence-based guidelines. To that end, said Granger, the researchers are moving ahead on a randomized study of a quality improvement project involving about 45 U.S. cardiology clinics using a feedback loop to apply more consistent prescribing patterns for the three therapy groups. “Hopefully a year from now we’ll have a lot more information about this problem,” Granger added.
Boehringer Ingelheim and Lilly funded the study. Granger reported financial relationships with Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Janssen, Pfizer, Medtronic, Akros Pharma, Apple, AstraZeneca, Daichi-Sankyo, Novartis, AbbVie, Bayer, Boston Scientific, CeleCor, Correvio, Espero, Merck, Novo Nordisk, Rhoshan Pharmaceuticals, and Roche Diagnostics. Jellinger is on speaker’s bureaus for Esperion and Amgen.
This story originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.