Background: Use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) increases the risk for hospitalization and death from gastrointestinal bleeding and perforation.
Objectives: To 1) estimate the extent to which NSAIDs are prescribed unnecessarily and NSAID-related side effects are inaccurately diagnosed and inappropriately managed and 2) identify the physician and visit characteristics associated with suboptimal use of NSAIDs.
Design: Prospective cohort study.
Setting: Montreal, Canada.
Participants: 112 physicians representing academically affiliated general practitioners, community-based general practitioners, and residents in family medicine and internal medicine.
Interventions: Blinded, office-based assessment of the management of two clinical cases (chronic hip pain due to early osteoarthritis and NSAID-related gastropathy) using elderly standardized patients.
Measurements: Quality of drug management and potential predictors of suboptimal drug management.
Results: Unnecessary prescriptions for NSAIDs or other drugs were written during 41.7% of visits. Gastropathy related to NSAID use was correctly diagnosed in 93.4% of visits and was acceptably managed in 77.4% of visits. The risk for an unnecessary NSAID prescription was greater when the contraindications to NSAID therapy were incompletely assessed (odds ratio, 2.3 [95% CI, 1.0 to 5.2]) and when the case was managed by residents in internal medicine (odds ratio, 4.1 [CI, 1.2 to 14.7]). The risk for suboptimal management of NSAID-related side effects was increased by incorrect diagnosis (odds ratio, 16.6 [CI, 3.6 to 76.5]) and shorter visits.
Conclusions: Unnecessary NSAID prescribing and suboptimal management of NSAID-related side effects were sufficiently common to raise questions about the appropriateness of NSAID use in the general population. If these results reflect current practice, prescribing patterns may contribute to avoidable gastrointestinal morbidity in elderly persons.