A comparison of knowledge of medical students and practicing primary care physicians about cardiovascular risk assessment and intervention

Sharon S Allen, Ilene B. Harris, Phillip M. Kofron, David C Anderson, Carole J. Bland, Terry Dennis, Leon Satran, Wesley J Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Background. Heart attack and stroke are still prevalent causes of death and disability in the U.S. adult population (1, 2). Studies (3-9) have shown that modification of hypertension, smoking, and hypercholesterolemia can reduce risks for atherosclerosis and subsequent cardiovascular events. Therefore, it is important that physicians be skilled in assessing and modifying patients' overall cardiovascular risk. This study compares acquired knowledge of second-year medical students about cardiovascular risk assessment with knowledge in a selected group of practicing primary care physicians, who are members of the medical school's clinical faculty, using a new experimental testing technique called the tailored response test (TRT). Methods. Students performed a structured cardiovascular risk intervention on a patient in primary care clinics. Their acquired knowledge was then tested using the TRT, which contained 43 discrete judgments about a clinical case. Test scores of students and faculty were compared. Results. Both students and faculty demonstrated knowledge about the most important risk factors, appropriate screening tools, and interventions. However, the selected physicians did not demonstrate knowledge of certain important risk assessment and intervention recommendations, based on national standards. Only 38% of faculty and 27% of students were aware that a "fasting" serum cholesterol is not needed for screening, 30% of faculty believed that if cholesterol was over 300 they would "probably prescribe medicine" before other intervention strategies were tried, and 32% of faculty and 30% of students would order a screening chest X-ray, which is incorrect in the case history. Conclusions. The TRT, in contrast to self-report surveys, demonstrates that important cardiovascular risk assessment and intervention knowledge, with implications for cost effectiveness in health care delivery, has not penetrated to a selected group of physicians who are members of the medical school's clinical faculty and therefore serve as role models for medical students. This is disturbing, in light of current emphases on cost effectiveness in health care. Greater undergraduate curricula and CME emphasis on cardiovascular preventive practice is needed, such that almost 100% of students and faculty demonstrate knowledge, and practice, of preventive medicine according to national standards. In turn, groups developing national standards are enjoined to design and implement effective approaches for disseminating these recommendations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)436-448
Number of pages13
JournalPreventive Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1992


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