To assess alternatives to measuring ambulatory pressure, which best predicts response to treatment and adverse outcome.
Three general practices in England.
Patients with newly diagnosed high or borderline high blood pressure; patients receiving treatment for hypertension but with poor control.
Main outcome measures
Overall agreement with ambulatory pressure; prediction of high ambulatory pressure (>135/85 mm Hg) and treatment thresholds.
Readings made by doctors were much higher than ambulatory systolic pressure (difference 18.9 mm Hg, 95% confidence interval 16.1 to 21.7), as were recent readings made in the clinic outside research settings (19.9 mm Hg,17.6 to 22.1). This applied equally to treated patients with poor control (doctor v ambulatory 21.4 mm Hg, 17.3 to 25.4). Doctors' and recent clinic readings ranked systolic pressure poorly compared with ambulatory pressure and other measurements (doctor r=0.46; clinic 0.47; repeated readings by nurse 0.60; repeated self measurement 0.73; home readings 0.75) and were not specific at predicting high blood pressure (doctor 26%; recent clinic 15%; nurse 72%; patient in surgery 81%; home 60%), with poor likelihood ratios for a positive test (doctor 1.2; clinic 1.1; nurse 2.1, patient in surgery 4.7; home 2.2). Nor were doctor or recent clinic measures specific in predicting treatment thresholds.
The “white coat” effect is important in diagnosing and assessing control of hypertension in primary care and is not a research artefact. If ambulatory or home measurements are not available, repeated measurements by the nurse or patient should result in considerably less unnecessary monitoring, initiation, or changing of treatment. It is time to stop using high blood pressure readings documented by general practitioners to make treatment decisions.
What is already known on this topicProspective studies indicate that ambulatory blood pressure is a much better predictor of adverse outcome and response to treatment than readings made by a doctorPreliminary evidence suggests that measurements by doctors are likely to be higher than those made by nurses, technicians, or patientsNo study has compared all the available measures in a typical primary care setting with ambulatory blood pressure in patients with newly diagnosed and established hypertensionWhat this study addsThe white coat effect associated with measurements by doctors is not an artefact of research studies; it applies equally in primary care and for both initial diagnosis and assessment of controlIf ambulatory measurement is not possible, repeated measurement by a nurse or by the patient will result in much less unnecessary treatment or change in treatment for high blood pressure