In a widely cited 2003 study, Dr. Kimberly Yarnall and colleagues estimated that in order for a family physician to provide all U.S. Preventive Services Task Force-recommended services to a patient panel of 2500 with an age and sex distribution similar to that of the U.S. population, he or she would need to spend 7.4 hours per working day, leaving little time to address acute or chronic medical problems. Although the subsequent rise of the patient-centered medical home model has allowed physicians to share this workload with other primary care team members, it remains difficult to meet all preventive care needs.
In 2006, the National Commission on Prevention Priorities (NCPP) ranked 25 preventive health services recommended by the USPSTF and the Advisory Commission on Immunization Practices (ACIP) based on clinically preventable burden (health impact) and cost-effectiveness. The three services that received the highest score were aspirin use to prevent cardiovascular disease (CVD), the childhood immunization series, and tobacco use screening and brief interventions in adults.
What happened to aspirin use in the 2013 update?
In the January/February Annals of Family Medicine, the NCPP published an updated ranking of effective clinical preventive services, using similar methods as in their 2006 study. The childhood immunization series and adult tobacco use screening and counseling remained the most highly prioritized services, joined by counseling to prevent initiation of tobacco use in children and adolescents, first recommended by the USPSTF in 2013. Although low-dose aspirin for primary prevention remained important, the more targeted 2016 USPSTF recommendation to discuss use with high-risk adults lowered the estimated population health impact of this service.
In a recent editorial in American Family Physician, former USPSTF member Douglas Owens explained the rationale for focusing on persons 50 to 59 years of age with a 10% or greater 10-year CVD risk:
“The decision to initiate aspirin should be based on a discussion of potential benefits and harms. …Persons who value avoiding long-term medication use may benefit less from taking aspirin. Cardiovascular risk is also important: The higher a person’s risk of CVD, the more potential benefit aspirin provides. The most favorable balance of benefits and harms occurs in persons who are at substantially elevated CVD risk but are not predisposed to bleeding complications. Finally, although older age increases the risk of cardiovascular events, it also increases the risk of bleeding complications.”
Dr. Jennifer Middleton discussed the nuances of this recommendation statement, including aspirin’s benefits for reducing colorectal cancer risk, in a previous post on the AFP Community Blog.
Finally, clinicians and patients should be aware that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandated that in addition to the USPSTF and ACIP, preventive services recommended by the Bright Futures guidelines and the Women’s Preventive Services Initiative be fully covered by private insurance plans without cost-sharing. The methods of these groups differ significantly, and unlike the NCPP, none of them review cost-effectiveness.
Although political uncertainty surrounding possible repeal of the ACA makes it unlikely that this process will change in the near future, a 2016 editorial in JAMA Internal Medicine proposed improving the consistency of the groups’ evidence review methodologies and forming a separate advisory committee “to integrate economic considerations into the final selection of free preventive services.” Or, perhaps the NCPP itself could take on that role?
This post first appeared on the AFP Community Blog on 03/06/17 and the Common Sense Family Doctor on 03/09/17. It has been republished here with the author’s permission. Be sure to also check out the Feb. 15 AFP Podcast, which includes “The Prevention Priorities Game” (starting at 16:10).