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Study: highly involved patients don't always see better health outcomes

Patients who prefer to be highly involved in their treatment don't necessarily have better luck managing chronic health conditions, a new study suggests.

A research team based at the Veterans Affairs (VA) Iowa City Health Care System and the University of Iowa surveyed 189 veterans with high blood pressure to determine the patients' preferences for involvement in their health care. They discovered those who wanted an active role in their treatment had higher blood pressure and cholesterol over a 12-month span than those who wanted a less active role.

The study, published this week in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine, was led by Austin Baldwin, a post-doctoral fellow in the Center for Research in the Implementation of Innovative Strategies in Practice (CRIISP) at the VA Iowa City Health Care System and an adjunct assistant professor of psychology in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

"The intuitive assumption is that the more involved people are with their health, the better they'll be at managing chronic conditions. We found evidence to the contrary," Baldwin said. "Those who preferred a more 'patient-centered' or active role actually had higher blood pressure and lipid levels. Those who preferred a 'provider-centered' approach, in which the doctor is more authoritative, did better at managing their blood pressure and lipid levels."

Patients who preferred the most active role averaged a blood pressure of 141 over 79 and a low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol level of 112, while those who preferred the least active role averaged a blood pressure of 137 over 72 and an LDL of 92. Doctors tell most patients with high blood pressure to aim for a blood pressure less than 140 over 90 and keep LDL cholesterol under 130.

The average participant was 65.8 years old, and 97 percent were men. Participants were recruited from the Iowa City and Minneapolis VA health care systems and four affiliated community-based outpatient clinics as part of a larger hypertension trial. The data were collected in 2004.

The research team offered a couple potential explanations for the results.

One possibility is that patients who wanted an active role were dissatisfied with the relatively passive treatment of taking medication to control their conditions, and therefore may not have followed doctors' orders as well.

"They were presumably provided advice and guidance about modifying their lifestyle, but all of these patients were on hypertension medication, and many were on lipid-lowering medications," Baldwin said. "For those who want more control over their treatment, a relatively passive treatment like taking medication may not be a good match."

One aspect of the study gave traction to this explanation. Some patients were diabetic. While those who preferred an active role did worse at managing blood pressure and cholesterol, they did slightly better at managing blood sugar (although the effect on managing blood sugar was not statistically significant). Researchers believe that's because managing blood sugar is a more hands-on treatment involving blood sugar tests, diet regulation and sometimes medication.

Another potential explanation is that the patients' role preferences didn't match their doctors' role preferences. While this study did not assess providers' preferences, previous research suggests that a mismatch between patients' and providers' role preferences impacts adherence to treatment recommendations. (See related UI study at

Baldwin said the research is important because if health professionals can assess patients' role preferences, they could potentially tailor treatment plans to give patients the best chance for a successful outcome. For example, patients with high blood pressure who want an active role could do better making more aggressive lifestyle changes and tracking their progress with a home blood pressure monitor, he said.

"The upshot of this research is that there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach. It's nice to think if we give everyone Treatment X, they're all going to do well," Baldwin said. "But individual differences and preferences are important, and the value of studying this is to understand how these preferences can influence treatment adherence and ultimately influence people's health."


Contact: Nicole Riehl
University of Iowa

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