Changes in Primary Care Could Improve Blood Pressure Outcomes

Caleb Rans, PharmD

May 11, 2021

Operational changes are linked to improvements in smoking and blood pressure outcomes in primary care practice settings, new research indicates.

The qualitative analysis, published in Annals of Family Medicine, included smoking and blood pressure as separate outcome measures.

The outcomes were calculated using Clinical Quality Measure improvements, with targets of at least 10-point absolute improvements in the proportion of patients with smoking screening, if relevant, counseling, and in the proportion of hypertensive patients with adequately controlled BP. The results were obtained from practices participating in Evidence-NOW, a multisite cardiovascular disease prevention initiative. Configurational Comparative Methods were used to evaluate the joint effects of multiple factors on outcomes.

The majority of practices in the analysis were clinician owned, small (fewer than six clinicians), and/or in an urban location. The researchers sampled and interviewed practice staff from a subset of 104 primary care practices across 7 Cooperatives and 12 states, ranging from small to medium in size, having 10 or fewer clinicians. The interview data were analyzed to identify operational changes, then transformed into numeric data.

Operational Changes Led to Improvements in Specific Contexts

In clinician-owned practices, process improvement, documentation, and referral to resources, combined with a moderate level of facilitation support, led to an improvement of at least 10 points in smoking outcomes.

However, the researchers found that these patterns were not observed in system–owned practices or Federally Qualified Health Centers.

In solo practices, training medical assistants to take an accurate blood pressure led to an improvement of at least 10 points in blood pressure outcomes.

Among larger, clinician-owned practices, measurement of blood pressure a second time when the first was elevated, and documentation of this reading in the electronic heath record, also led to a 10-point or greater improvement in BP outcome when combined with a large amount (50 hours or more) of facilitation.

"There was no magic bullet for improving smoking cessation counseling and blood pressure outcomes across the diverse primary care practices studied," lead author Deborah J. Cohen, PhD, of Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, said in an interview. "Combinations of operational changes among practice sizes and types led to improvements."

Smaller Practices More Nimble, Experts Say

Results of the qualitative data analysis suggest that smaller and clinician-owned practices are more likely to have the capacity for change and improvement compared with larger, hospital/health system–owned practices.

Commenting on the study, Noel Deep, MD, regional medical director at Aspirus Clinics, Ironwood, Mich., said solo or small private practices have a distinct advantage over larger hospital or system-owned practices when implementing new operational changes to improve clinical outcomes.

"A smaller independent practice is nimble, with the physician [or physicians] able to make a quick decision at analyzing the scientific data, planning the changes, implementing them quickly, and doing a rapid cycle review of the results and tweaking the program to attain the targets," said Deep, a member of the editorial advisory board of Internal Medicine News.

Kate Rowland, MD, MS, assistant professor in the department of family medicine at Rush Medical College, Chicago, also noted that smaller practices have unique advantages over larger health organizations.

"Larger organizations should replicate the benefits of the smaller office, providing as much local decision-making and autonomy as possible to the site where the changes are happening," Rowland explained in an interview.

"The clinicians at these sites are mostly likely to know what is going to be successful for achieving measurable change in the patients they care for," she added.

The study was funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The authors and other experts interviewed for this piece reported having no conflicts of interest.

This story originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.