NEW ORLEANS – EHR-embedded alerts that a patient with heart failure with reduced ejection fraction (HFrEF) is a great candidate for treatment with a mineralocorticoid receptor antagonist (MRA) more than doubled prescribing of this “pillar” class for HFrEF, compared with control practices that used usual care and no alerts.
That’s according to results of BETTER CARE-HF, a single-center, randomized trial with more than 2,000 patients and involving 180 cardiologists.
“EHR-embedded tools cans be a rapid, low-cost, and high-impact method to increase prescription of life-saving therapies across large populations,” said Amrita Mukhopadhyay, MD, at the joint scientific sessions of the American College of Cardiology and the World Heart Federation.
Her study targeted underprescribing of an MRA – spironolactone or eplerenone (Inspra) – because of its “vastly underprescribed” status in U.S. practice, where roughly two-thirds of patients with HFrEF do not receive an MRA despite clear recommendations from several medical groups that it is an essential part of treatment for most patients with HFrEF. Dr. Mukhopadhyay estimated that more comprehensive prescribing of MRAs to U.S. patients with HFrEF could prevent more than 20,000 deaths annually.
She also explained that the EHR-embedded alert was carefully devised, through interviews with cardiologists and pilot testing, to optimize the nudge so that it was less intrusive but effective for capturing attention and initiating action.
‘Clinically relevant, impressive results’
“This is a really important study, because despite overwhelming evidence for more than a decade favoring MRA use for patients with HFrEF there is an incredibly large treatment gap. MRAs can reduce all-cause death in people with HFrEF by 25%-30%, as well as reduce hospitalizations for heart failure, at a cost of less than $50 a year,” commented Gregg C. Fonarow, MD, interim chief of cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles. The study showed “very clinically relevant, impressive results” for individualized, patient-specific alerts to prescribe an MRA and order the laboratory tests, particularly for serum potassium levels, needed to safely start the treatment, Dr. Fonarow said in an interview.
The BETTER CARE-HF study ran at more than 60 practices in the New York City region operated by the NYU Langone Health system, which sponsored the study. The trial randomized 180 cardiologists from these practices in a cluster format to one of three study arms: Sixty cardiologists received the EHR-embedded alerts for their relevant patients (755 patients) when the patient was in the physician’s office; another 60 cardiologists received a less tailored, monthly message that flagged all patients with HFrEF in a cardiologist’s practice who remained untreated candidates for MRA intervention (812 patients); and a third arm of 60 cardiologists and their HFrEF patients served as controls where the clinicians received no alert or message (644 patients).
The study included 2,211 patients with HFrEF and not on MRA treatment at baseline who were all identified as good candidates for starting treatment with the class, with no contraindications, no preexisting hyperkalemia, and no advanced-stage renal dysfunction.
The study’s primary outcome was the percentage of patients in each subgroup who received a new prescription for an MRA. This occurred in 29.6% of the patients whose physicians received an alert, in 15.6% of the patients whose physicians received a monthly message, and in 11.7% of patients in the control practices. Statistical analyses showed that the alerts led to a significant 2.53-fold increase in MRA prescribing, while the messages linked with a significant 67% increase in prescribing, compared with the control practices, reported Dr. Mukhopadhyay, a health services researcher at NYU Langone Health in New York. Simultaneously with her report, the results also appeared in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
The findings also showed that the alert and message had no significant impact on the prescribing of any other medication classes for HFrEF, compared with the controls. And the alert intervention had minimal adverse effects. While patients in the alert arm showed a significant, 45% relative increase in the incidence of hyperkalemia episodes, compared with control patients (because of a 4.5% absolute increase in hyperkalemia events), the rate of “significant” hyperkalemia with a value of at least 5.5 mmol/L, occurred in 5.0% of patients in the alert group and 5.1% of patients in the control arm.
Potassium testing poses another barrier
Even though the alerts substantially improved MRA prescribing, 70% of patients deemed MRA eligible in the alert subgroup still failed to receive a prescription. One additional barrier specific to MRA prescribing is the need it triggers for serial laboratory testing to monitor serum potassium levels. “Potassium testing generates additional work outside the index visit, which along with the risk for hyperkalemia exists as a barrier,” commented Lee R. Goldberg, MD, a heart failure specialist and professor at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. “This may be the next aspect to focus on to improve MRA uptake,” he said as a designated discussant for the report.
“It’s not enough to just prompt medication treatment. We also need to prompt appropriate laboratory testing,” noted Dr. Fonarow.
He also said that the approach tested by Dr. Mukhopadhyay could now be expanded to outpatient cardiologists. “The onus is on everyone involved in caring for patients with HFrEF failure to explain why maximum effort is not being made to deploy” all of the guideline-directed medical therapies for the disorder.
EHR alerts “are one way to bridge the prescribing gap, but we need multiple approaches so that all eligible patients receive guideline-directed medical therapy,” Dr. Fonarow said.
BETTER CARE-HF received no commercial funding, and Dr. Mukhopadhyay had no disclosures. Dr. Fonarow has been a consultant to AstraZeneca, Amgen, Cytokinetics, Lilly, Merck, Novartis, and Pfizer. Dr. Goldberg has received personal fees from Abbott, VisCardia, and Zoll/Respircardia.
This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.
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