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1.  Effects of a Guided Web-Based Smoking Cessation Program With Telephone Counseling: A Cluster Randomized Controlled Trial 
Preliminary findings suggest that Web-based interventions may be effective in achieving significant smoking cessation. To date, very few findings are available for primary care patients, and especially for the involvement of general practitioners.
Our goal was to examine the short-term effectiveness of a fully automated Web-based coaching program in combination with accompanied telephone counseling in smoking cessation in a primary care setting.
The study was an unblinded cluster-randomized trial with an observation period of 12 weeks. Individuals recruited by general practitioners randomized to the intervention group participated in a Web-based coaching program based on education, motivation, exercise guidance, daily short message service (SMS) reminding, weekly feedback through Internet, and active monitoring by general practitioners. All components of the program are fully automated. Participants in the control group received usual care and advice from their practitioner without the Web-based coaching program. The main outcome was the biochemically confirmed smoking status after 12 weeks.
We recruited 168 participants (86 intervention group, 82 control group) into the study. For 51 participants from the intervention group and 70 participants from the control group, follow-up data were available both at baseline and 12 weeks. Very few patients (9.8%, 5/51) from the intervention group and from the control group (8.6%, 6/70) successfully managed smoking cessation (OR 0.86, 95% CI 0.25-3.0; P=.816). Similar results were found within the intent-to-treat analysis: 5.8% (5/86) of the intervention group and 7.3% (6/82) of the control group (OR 1.28, 95% CI 0.38-4.36; P=.694). The number of smoked cigarettes per day decreased on average by 9.3 in the intervention group and by 6.6 in the control group (2.7 mean difference; 95% CI -5.33 to -0.58; P=.045). After adjustment for the baseline value, age, gender, and height, this significance decreases (mean difference 2.2; 95% CI -4.7 to 0.3; P=.080).
This trial did not show that the tested Web-based intervention was effective for achieving smoking cessation compared to usual care. The limited statistical power and the high drop-out rate may have reduced the study’s ability to detect significant differences between the groups. Further randomized controlled trials are needed in larger populations and to investigate the long-term outcome.
Trial Registration
German Register for Clinical Trials, registration number DRKS00003067; ID=DRKS00003067 (Archived by WebCite at
PMCID: PMC4211026  PMID: 25253539
smoking cessation; Web-based; randomized controlled trial; primary care
2.  Communicating and Dealing with Uncertainty in General Practice: The Association with Neuroticism 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(7):e102780.
Diagnostic reasoning in primary care setting where presented problems and patients are mostly unselected appears as a complex process. The aim was to develop a questionnaire to describe how general practitioners (GPs) deal with uncertainty to gain more insight into the decisional process. The association of personality traits with medical decision making was investigated additionally.
Raw items were identified by literature research and focus group. Items were improved by interviewing ten GPs with thinking-aloud-method. A personal case vignette related to a complex and uncertainty situation was introduced. The final questionnaire was administered to 228 GPs in Germany. Factorial validity was calculated with explorative and confirmatory factor analysis. The results of the Communicating and Dealing with Uncertainty (CoDU) – questionnaire were compared with the scales of the ‘Physician Reaction to Uncertainty’ (PRU) questionnaire and with the personality traits which were determined with the Big Five Inventory (BFI-K).
The items could be assigned to four scales with varying internal consistency, namely ‘communicating uncertainty’ (Cronbach alpha 0.79), ‘diagnostic action’ (0.60), ‘intuition’ (0.39) and ‘extended social anamnesis’ (0.69). Neuroticism was positively associated with all PRU scales ‘anxiety due to uncertainty’ (Pearson correlation 0.487), ‘concerns about bad outcomes’ (0.488), ‘reluctance to disclose uncertainty to patients’ (0.287), ‘reluctance to disclose mistakes to physicians’ (0.212) and negatively associated with the CoDU scale ‘communicating uncertainty’ (−0.242) (p<0.01 for all). ‘Extraversion’ (0.146; p<0.05), ‘agreeableness’ (0.145, p<0.05), ‘conscientiousness’ (0.168, p<0.05) and ‘openness to experience’ (0.186, p<0.01) were significantly positively associated with ‘communicating uncertainty’. ‘Extraversion’ (0.162), ‘consciousness’ (0.158) and ‘openness to experience’ (0.155) were associated with ‘extended social anamnesis’ (p<0.05).
The questionnaire allowed describing the diagnostic decision making process of general practitioners in complex situations. Personality traits are associated with diagnostic reasoning and communication with patients, which might be important for medical education and quality improvement purposes.
PMCID: PMC4100927  PMID: 25029276
3.  The Use of Placebo and Non-Specific Therapies and Their Relation to Basic Professional Attitudes and the Use of Complementary Therapies among German Physicians – A Cross-Sectional Survey 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(4):e92938.
We aimed to investigate the use of placebos (e.g. saline injections) and non-specific treatments (e.g. vitamin supplements in individuals without a relevant deficiency) among physicians working in private practices in Germany, and how such use is associated with the belief in and the use of complementary and alternative treatments, and basic professional attitudes. A four-page questionnaire was sent to nationwide random samples of general practitioners (GP), internists and orthopaedists working in private practices. The response rate was 46% (935 of 2018). 24% of GPs, 44% of internists and 57% of orthopaedists had neither used pure placebos nor non-specific therapies in the previous 12 months. 11% percent of GPs, 12% of internists and 7% of orthopaedists had exclusively used pure placebos; 30%, 33% and 26%, respectively, had exclusively used non-specific therapies; 35%, 12% and 9% had used both. Age, sex and agreement to the statement that physicians should harness placebo effects were not significantly associated with any pattern of use. Exclusive use of pure placebos was associated with being a GP, being an internist, and having unorthodox professional views. In addition to these three factors, a lower use of CAM therapies and a wish for having more time was associated with the exclusive use of non-specific therapies. Among physicians using both pure placebo and non-specific therapies, heterodox views were also somewhat more pronounced. However, associations were particularly strong for being a GP (Odds ratio 11.6 (95%CI 6.41; 21.3)) and having orthodox views (Odds ratio 0.10 (95%CI 0.06; 0.18)) among this group. In conclusion, the use of placebos and non-specific treatments varies strongly between medical specialties and is associated with basic professional attitudes. The findings support the view that the use of placebos and, in particular, of non-specific therapies is primarily a coping behaviour for difficult and uncertain situations.
PMCID: PMC3973570  PMID: 24695272
4.  Can near-peer medical students effectively teach a new curriculum in physical examination? 
BMC Medical Education  2013;13:165.
Students in German medical schools frequently complain that the subject ‘clinical examination’ is not taught in a satisfying manner due to time constraints and lack of personnel resources. While the effectiveness and efficiency of practice-oriented teaching in small groups using near-peer teaching has been shown, it is rarely used in German medical schools. We investigated whether adding a new near-peer teaching course developed with student input plus patient examination under supervision in small groups improves basic clinical examination skills in third year medical students compared to a traditional clinical examination course alone.
Third year medical students registered for the mandatory curricular clinical examination course at the medical faculty of the Technische Universität München were invited to participate in a randomised trial with blinded outcome assessment. Students were randomised to the control group participating in the established curricular physical examination course or to the intervention group, which received additional near-peer teaching for the same content. The learning success was verified by a voluntary objective structured clinical examination (OSCE).
A total of 84 students were randomised and 53 (63%) participated in the final OSCE. Students in the control group scored a median of 57% (25th percentile 47%, 75th percentile 61%) of the maximum possible total points of the OSCE compared to 77% (73%, 80%; p < 0.001) for students in the intervention group. Only two students in the intervention group received a lower score than the best student in the control group.
Adding a near-peer teaching course to the routine course significantly improved the clinical examination skills of medical students in an efficient manner in the context of a resource-constrained setting.
PMCID: PMC3874636  PMID: 24325639
5.  Predictors of a positive attitude of medical students towards general practice – a survey of three Bavarian medical faculties 
Objective: Germany is witnessing an increasing shortage of general practitioners (GPs). The aim was to determine predictors of the job-related motivation of medical students of three medical faculties with different institutionalisation of general practice as an academic discipline.
Methods: Medical students were surveyed with a standardised questionnaire about their attitudes towards general practice and their motivation to work as a GP in different working conditions. Predictors for positive attitudes and motivation were calculated using logistic regression models.
Results: 940 (15.2%) out of 6182 medical students from three Bavarian medical faculties participated in an online survey. 585 (62.7%) were female, and the average age was 25.0 (standard deviation 3.7). The average grade of a university-entrance diploma was 1.6 (standard deviation 0.5). 718 (76.4%) could imagine working as a GP. However, they favoured being employed within another organisation and not having their own private practice (65.5% vs. 35.1%). “Presence of a professorship of general practice” was associated with a positive attitude towards general practice (OR 1.57; 95%CI 1.13-2.417). Motivation for working as a GP was associated with “being female” (OR 2.56; 95%CI 1.80-3.56) and “presence of a professorship of general practice” (OR 1.68; 95%CI 1.14-2.46). Having a lower grade for one’s university-entrance diploma was associated with a higher preference to work in one’s own practice (OR 1.39; 95%CI 1.02-1.90).
Conclusion: A high amount of medical students were open-minded towards general practice. However, they favoured employment within an organization over working in their own practice. Institutionalisation of general practice as an academic discipline might be of importance to gain positive attitudes towards general practice and motivate medical students to work as a GP.
PMCID: PMC3839073  PMID: 24282448
general practice; institutionalisation; medical students; medical profession; motivation
6.  Kidney function and clinical recommendations of drug dose adjustment in geriatric patients 
BMC Geriatrics  2013;13:92.
In elderly patients chronic kidney disease often limits drug prescription. As several equations for quick assessment of kidney function by estimating glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) and several different clinical recommendations for drug dose adjustment in renal failure are published, choosing the correct approach for drug dosage is difficult for the practitioner. The aims of our study were to quantify the agreement between eGFR-equations grouped by creatinine-based or cystatin C-based and within the groups of creatinine and cystatin C-based equations and to investigate whether use of various literature and online references results in different recommendations for drug dose adjustment in renal disease in very elderly primary care patients.
We included 108 primary care patients aged 80 years and older from 11 family practices into a cross-sectional study. GFR was estimated using two serum creatinine-based equations (Cockroft-Gault, MDRD) and three serum cystatin C-based equations (Grubb, Hoek, Perkins). Concordance between different equations was quantified using intraclass correlation coefficients (ICCs). Essential changes in drug doses or discontinuation of medication were documented and compared in terms of estimated renal function as a consequence of the different eGFR-equations using five references commonly used in the US, Great Britain and Germany.
In general, creatinine-based equations resulted in lower eGFR-estimation and in higher necessity of drug dose adjustment than cystatin C-based equations. Concordance was high between creatinine-based equations alone (ICCs 0.87) and between cystatin C-based equations alone (ICCs 0.90 to 0.96), and moderate between creatinine-based equations and cystatin C-based equations (ICCs 0.54 to 0.76). When comparing the five different references consulted to identify necessary drug dose adjustments we found that the numbers of drugs that necessitate dose adjustment in the case of renal impairment differed considerably. The mean number of recommended changes in drug dosage ranged between 1.9 and 2.5 per patient depending on the chosen literature reference.
Our data suggest that the choice of the literature source might have even greater impact on drug management than the choice of the equation used to estimate GFR alone. Efforts should be deployed to standardize methods for estimating kidney function in geriatric patients and literature recommendations on drug dose adjustment in renal failure.
PMCID: PMC3850264  PMID: 24020893
Estimated kidney function; Aged 80 years and older; Drug dose adjustment; Primary care; Literature references
7.  Effects of a general practice guided web-based weight reduction program - results of a cluster-randomized controlled trial 
BMC Family Practice  2013;14:76.
Preliminary findings suggest that web-based interventions may be effective in achieving significant weight loss and weight loss maintenance. To date only few findings within primary care patients and especially the involvement of general practitioners are available. The aim of this trial was to examine the short-term effectiveness of a web-based coaching program in combination with an accompanied telephone counselling regarding weight reduction in a primary care setting.
The study was a cluster-randomized trial with an observation period of 12 weeks. Individuals recruited by general practitioners randomized to the intervention group participated in a web-based coaching program based on education, motivation, exercise guidance, daily SMS reminding, weekly feedback through internet and active monitoring by general practitioners. Participants in the control group received usual care and advice from their practitioner without the web-based coaching program. The main outcome was weight change between admission and after 12 weeks.
186 participants (109 intervention group, 77 control group) were recruited into study. For 76 participants from the intervention group and 72 participants from the control group weight measurements were available both at baseline and 12 weeks. Weight decreased on average by 4.2 kg in the intervention group and 1.7 kg in the control group (mean group difference 2.5 kg; 95%CI 1,1; 3,8; p < 0.001). Reductions for waist circumference and BMI were also significantly larger within intervention.
Findings of the present trial suggest that the tested web-based coaching program for weight loss is effective in short-term. Further RCT’s are desirable in order to confirm present findings in larger populations and to investigate long-term outcomes.
Trial registration
German Register for Clinical Trials: DRKS00003067
PMCID: PMC3680299  PMID: 23981507
Overweight; Obesity; Weight loss; Web-based; Randomized controlled trial
8.  The development of general practice as an academic discipline in Germany - an analysis of research output between 2000 and 2010 
BMC Family Practice  2012;13:58.
Governmental funding support is seen as a prerequisite for the growth of research in general practice. Several funding programs in the amount of € 13.2 Mio were introduced in Germany from 2002 to February 2012. We aim to provide an overview of publications reporting original data and systematic reviews from German academic family medicine published between 2000 and 2010.
Publications were identified by searching the database Scopus and screening publication lists of family medicine divisions or institutes. Papers had to report original primary research studies or systematic reviews; at least one of the authors had to be affiliated to a German academic family medicine division or institute.
794 articles were included. The number of publications increased steadily starting from 107 in the period from 2000 to 2003, to 273 from 2004 to 2007, and finally to 414 from 2008 to 2010. Less than 25% were published in English in the first period. This proportion increased to 60.6% from 2008 to 2010. Articles published in a journal without impact factor decreased from 59.8% to 31.9%. Nevertheless, even in the most recent period only 31.6% of all articles were published in a journal with an impact factor above 2. The median impact factor increased from 0 in the first period to 1.2 in the last.
The output of original research publications from academic research divisions and institutes for general practice in Germany greatly increased during the last decade. However, professionalism of German primary care research still needs to be developed.
PMCID: PMC3489844  PMID: 22702476
Research articles; Germany; Primary care; General practice; Academic performance
9.  Treatment of depressive disorders in primary care - protocol of a multiple treatment systematic review of randomized controlled trials 
BMC Family Practice  2011;12:127.
Several systematic reviews have summarized the evidence for specific treatments of primary care patients suffering from depression. However, it is not possible to answer the question how the available treatment options compare with each other as review methods differ. We aim to systematically review and compare the available evidence for the effectiveness of pharmacological, psychological, and combined treatments for patients with depressive disorders in primary care.
To be included, studies have to be randomized trials comparing antidepressant medication (tricyclic antidepressants, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), hypericum extracts, other agents) and/or psychological therapies (e.g. interpersonal psychotherapy, cognitive therapy, behavioural therapy, short dynamically-oriented psychotherapy) with another active therapy, placebo or sham intervention, routine care or no treatment in primary care patients in the acute phase of a depressive episode. Main outcome measure is response after completion of acute phase treatment. Eligible studies will be identified from available systematic reviews, from searches in electronic databases (Medline, Embase and Central), trial registers, and citation tracking. Two reviewers will independently extract study data and assess the risk of bias using the Cochrane Collaboration's corresponding tool. Meta-analyses (random effects model, inverse variance weighting) will be performed for direct comparisons of single interventions and for groups of similar interventions (e.g. SSRIs vs. tricyclics) and defined time-windows (up to 3 months and above). If possible, a global analysis of the relative effectiveness of treatments will be estimated from all available direct and indirect evidence that is present in a network of treatments and comparisons.
Practitioners do not only want to know whether there is evidence that a specific treatment is more effective than placebo, but also how the treatment options compare to each other. Therefore, we believe that a multiple treatment systematic review of primary-care based randomized controlled trials on the most important therapies against depression is timely.
PMCID: PMC3226438  PMID: 22085705
10.  Unlimited access to health care - impact of psychosomatic co-morbidity on utilisation in German general practices 
BMC Family Practice  2011;12:51.
The effect of psychosomatic co-morbidity on resource use for systems with unlimited access remains unclear. The aim of this study was to evaluate the impact on practice visits, referrals and periods of disability in German general practices and to identify predictors of health care utilisation.
Cross sectional observational study in 13 practices in Upper Bavaria. Patients were included consecutively and filled in the Patients Health Questionnaire (PHQ). Numbers of practice visits, referrals and periods of disability within the last twelve months and permanent mental and somatic diagnoses were extracted manually by review of the computerised charts. Physicians in Germany are obliged to document repetitive reasons of encounter as permanent diagnoses in terms of ICD-10-codes. These ICD-10-codes are used for legitimisation of reimbursement in German general practices.
1005 patients were included (58.6% female). On average, patients had 15.3 (sd 16.3) practice contacts, 3.8 (sd 4.2) referrals and 7.5 (sd 23.1) days of disability per year. The mean number of coded permanent diagnoses was 0.4 (sd 0.7) for mental and 4.0 (sd 4.0) for somatic diagnoses. Patients with mental diagnoses scored higher in depression, anxiety, panic and somatoform disorder scales of PHQ. Frequent practice visits were associated stronger with coded permanent mental diagnoses (OR 20.0; 95%CI 7.5-53.9) than with coded permanent somatic diagnoses (OR 14.4; 95%CI 5.9-35.4). Frequent referrals were associated stronger with somatic diagnoses (OR 4.9; 95%CI 2.0-11.9) than with mental diagnoses (OR 3.6; 95%CI 1.4-9.8). Periods of disability were predicted by mental diagnoses (OR 5.0; 95%CI 1.6-15.8) but not by somatic diagnoses (OR 2.5; 95%CI 0.7-8.1).
Psychosomatic co-morbidity has a stronger impact on health care utilisation in German general practices with respect to practice visits and periods of disability whereas somatic disorders play a stronger role for referrals. Time constraints in the practices might lead to frequent contacts as too little time is left for patients with mental problems. Therefore, structural changes in the health care reimbursement systems might be necessary. Mental diagnoses might be helpful to identify patients at risk for high health care utilisation. However, the use of routinely coded diagnoses for reimbursement might lead to distorted estimation of resource use.
PMCID: PMC3130659  PMID: 21682916
11.  An interdisciplinary intervention to prevent falls in community-dwelling elderly persons: protocol of a cluster-randomized trial [PreFalls] 
BMC Geriatrics  2011;11:7.
Prevention of falls in the elderly is a public health target in many countries around the world. While a large number of trials have investigated the effectiveness of fall prevention programs, few focussed on interventions embedded in the general practice setting and its related network. In the Prevent Falls (PreFalls) trial we aim to investigate the effectiveness of a pre-tested multi-modal intervention compared to usual care in this setting.
PreFalls is a controlled multicenter prospective study with cluster-randomized allocation of about 40 general practices to an experimental or a control group. We aim to include 382 community dwelling persons aged 65 and older with an increased risk of falling. All participating general practitioners are trained to systematically assess the risk of falls using a set of validated tests. Patients from intervention practices are invited to participate in a 16-weeks exercise program with focus on fall prevention delivered by specifically trained local physiotherapists. Patients from practices allocated to the control group receive usual care. Main outcome measure is the number of falls per individual in the first 12 months (analysis by negative binomial regression). Secondary outcomes include falls in the second year, the proportion of participants falling in the first and the second year, falls associated with injury, risk of falls, fear of falling, physical activity and quality of life.
Reducing falls in the elderly remains a major challenge. We believe that with its strong focus on a both systematic and realistic fall prevention strategy adapted to primary care setting PreFalls will be a valuable addition to the scientific literature in the field.
Trial registration
PMCID: PMC3050704  PMID: 21329525
12.  How large are the nonspecific effects of acupuncture? A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials 
BMC Medicine  2010;8:75.
While several recent large randomized trials found clinically relevant effects of acupuncture over no treatment or routine care, blinded trials comparing acupuncture to sham interventions often reported only minor or no differences. This raises the question whether (sham) acupuncture is associated with particularly potent nonspecific effects. We aimed to investigate the size of nonspecific effects associated with acupuncture interventions.
MEDLINE, Embase, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Clinical Trials and reference lists were searched up to April 2010 to identify randomized trials of acupuncture for any condition, including both sham and no acupuncture control groups. Data were extracted by one reviewer and verified by a second. Pooled standardized mean differences were calculated using a random effects model with the inverse variance method.
Thirty-seven trials with a total of 5754 patients met the inclusion criteria. The included studies varied strongly regarding patients, interventions, outcome measures, methodological quality and effect sizes reported. Among the 32 trials reporting a continuous outcome measure, the random effects standardized mean difference between sham acupuncture and no acupuncture groups was -0.45 (95% confidence interval, -0.57, -0.34; I2 = 54%; Egger's test for funnel plot asymmetry, P = 0.25). Trials with larger effects of sham over no acupuncture reported smaller effects of acupuncture over sham intervention than trials with smaller nonspecific effects (β = -0.39, P = 0.029).
Sham acupuncture interventions are often associated with moderately large nonspecific effects which could make it difficult to detect small additional specific effects. Compared to inert placebo interventions, effects associated with sham acupuncture might be larger, which would have considerable implications for the design and interpretation of clinical trials.
PMCID: PMC3001416  PMID: 21092261
13.  Frequency and circumstances of placebo use in clinical practice - a systematic review of empirical studies 
BMC Medicine  2010;8:15.
The use of placebo interventions outside clinical trials is ethically, professionally and legally controversial. Little is known about the frequency and circumstances of placebo use in clinical practice. Our aim was to summarize the available empirical studies addressing these issues.
We searched PubMed and EMBASE from inception to July 2009 in order to identify cross-sectional surveys, qualitative or longitudinal studies among health care professionals, students or patients which investigated at least one of the following issues - frequency of placebo use or attitudes to, or motivations for, the use of placebo interventions. At least two reviewers extracted information on the study methods, participants and findings. Descriptive summaries were prepared in an iterative process by at least two reviewers per study.
Twenty-two studies from 12 different countries met the inclusion criteria. Most studies had relevant shortcomings. The proportion of respondents reporting that they had applied 'pure' placebos (for example, saline injection) during their professional life varied between 17% and 80% among physicians and between 51% and 100% among nurses, but it seems that the actual frequency of such use seems to be rare. The use of 'impure' or 'active' placebos (for example, antibiotics for viral infections) is likely to be much more frequent. However, it is impossible to make a reliable estimation because there is no agreement of what an impure placebo might be. Studies using qualitative methods or asking participants to judge case examples suggest that motivations and attitudes towards placebo use are complex and health care providers are often faced with a dilemma.
Although the available evidence is incomplete and confusing at times there can be little doubt that the prevalence of placebo use outside of clinical trials is not negligible and that views and attitudes on placebos use differ considerably among individuals, both health care professionals and patients. Further research is needed to clarify these issues.
PMCID: PMC2837612  PMID: 20178561
14.  Diagnostic accuracy of spirometry in primary care 
To evaluate the sensitivity, specificity and predictive values of spirometry for the diagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma in patients suspected of suffering from an obstructive airway disease (OAD) in primary care.
Cross sectional diagnostic study of 219 adult patients attending 10 general practices for the first time with complaints suspicious for OAD. All patients underwent spirometry and structured medical histories were documented. All patients received whole-body plethysmography (WBP) in a lung function laboratory. The reference standard was the Tiffeneau ratio (FEV1/VC) received by the spirometric maneuver during examination with WBP. In the event of inconclusive results, bronchial provocation was performed to determine bronchial hyper-responsiveness (BHR). Asthma was defined as a PC20 fall after inhaling methacholine concentration ≤ 16 mg/ml.
90 (41.1%) patients suffered from asthma, 50 (22.8%) suffered from COPD, 79 (36.1%) had no OAD. The sensitivity for diagnosing airway obstruction in COPD was 92% (95%CI 80–97); specificity was 84% (95%CI 77–89). The positive predictive value (PPV) was 63% (95%CI 51–73); negative predictive value (NPV) was 97% (95%CI 93–99). The sensitivity for diagnosing airway obstruction in asthma was 29% (95%CI 21–39); specificity was 90% (95%CI 81–95). PPV was 77% (95%CI 60–88); NPV was 53% (95%CI 45–61).
COPD can be estimated with high diagnostic accuracy using spirometry. It is also possible to rule in asthma with spirometry. However, asthma can not be ruled out only using spirometry. This diagnostic uncertainty leads to an overestimation of asthma presence. Patients with inconclusive spirometric results should be referred for nitric oxide (NO) – measurement and/or bronchial provocation if possible to guarantee accurate diagnosis.
PMCID: PMC2714498  PMID: 19591673
16.  Diagnosing asthma in general practice with portable exhaled nitric oxide measurement – results of a prospective diagnostic study 
Respiratory Research  2009;10(1):15.
To evaluate the sensitivity, specificity and predictive values of fractional exhaled nitric oxide (FENO) for the diagnosis of asthma in general practice.
Prospective diagnostic study with 160 patients attending 10 general practices for the first time with complaints suspicious of obstructive airway disease (OAD). Patients were referred to a lung function laboratory for diagnostic investigation. The index test was FENO measured with a portable FENO analyser based on electrochemical sensor. The reference standard was the Tiffeneau ratio (FEV1/VC) as received by spirometric manoeuvre and/or results of bronchial provocation. Bronchial provocation with methacholine was performed to determine bronchial hyper-responsiveness (BHR) in the event of inconclusive spirometric results.
88 (55%) were female; their average age was 43.9 years. 75 (46.9%) patients had asthma, 25 (15.6%) had COPD, 8 (5.0%) had an overlap of COPD and asthma, and 52 (32.5%) had no OAD. At a cut-off level of 46 parts per billion (ppb) (n = 30; 18.8%), sensitivity was 32% (95%CI 23–43%), specificity 93% (95%CI 85–97%), positive predictive value (PPV) 80% (95%CI 63–91%), negative predictive value (NPV) 61% (95%CI 52–69%) when compared with a 20% fall in FEV1 from the baseline value (PC20) after inhaling methacholine concentration ≤ 16 mg/ml. At 76 ppb (n = 11; 6.9%) specificity was 100% (95%CI 96–100%) and PPV was 100% (95%CI 72–100). At a cut-off level of 12 ppb (n = 34; 21.3%), sensitivity was 90% (95%CI 79–95%), specificity 25% (95%CI 17–34%), PPV 40% (95%CI 32–50), NPV 81% (95%CI 64–91%) when compared with a 20% fall of FEV1 after inhaling methacholine concentration ≤ 4 mg/ml. Three patients with unsuspicious spirometric results have to be tested with FENO to save one bronchial provocation test.
Asthma could be ruled in with FENO > 46 ppb. Mild and moderate to severe asthma could be ruled out with FENO ≤ 12 ppb. FENO measurement with an electrochemical sensor might be reasonable with respect to the time consuming procedure of bronchial provocation, which carries also some risk of severe bronchospasm. Further research is necessary to evaluate the effectiveness of this dual diagnostic strategy. The number needed to diagnose might be improved when the diagnostic precision could be enhanced by future technical developments.
PMCID: PMC2660901  PMID: 19254389
17.  Impact of quality circles for improvement of asthma care: results of a randomized controlled trial 
Rationale and aims
Quality circles (QCs) are well established as a means of aiding doctors. New quality improvement strategies include benchmarking activities. The aim of this paper was to evaluate the efficacy of QCs for asthma care working either with general feedback or with an open benchmark.
Twelve QCs, involving 96 general practitioners, were organized in a randomized controlled trial. Six worked with traditional anonymous feedback and six with an open benchmark; both had guided discussion from a trained moderator. Forty-three primary care practices agreed to give out questionnaires to patients to evaluate the efficacy of QCs.
A total of 256 patients participated in the survey, of whom 185 (72.3%) responded to the follow-up 1 year later. Use of inhaled steroids at baseline was high (69%) and self-management low (asthma education 27%, individual emergency plan 8%, and peak flow meter at home 21%). Guideline adherence in drug treatment increased (P = 0.19), and asthma steps improved (P = 0.02). Delivery of individual emergency plans increased (P = 0.008), and unscheduled emergency visits decreased (P = 0.064). There was no change in asthma education and peak flow meter usage. High medication guideline adherence was associated with reduced emergency visits (OR 0.24; 95% CI 0.07–0.89). Use of theophylline was associated with hospitalization (OR 7.1; 95% CI 1.5–34.3) and emergency visits (OR 4.9; 95% CI 1.6–14.7). There was no difference between traditional and benchmarking QCs.
Quality circles working with individualized feedback are effective at improving asthma care. The trial may have been underpowered to detect specific benchmarking effects. Further research is necessary to evaluate strategies for improving the self-management of asthma patients.
PMCID: PMC2440309  PMID: 18093108
asthma; emergency visit; general practice; hospitalization; quality circle; self-management
18.  Acupuncture treatment in gastrointestinal diseases: A systematic review 
The purpose of this work was to assess the evidence for effectiveness of acupuncture (AC) treatment in gastrointestinal diseases. A systematic review of the Medline-cited literature for clinical trials was performed up to May 2006. Controlled trials assessing acupuncture point stimulation for patients with gastrointestinal diseases were considered for inclusion. The search identified 18 relevant trials meeting the inclusion criteria. Two irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) trials, 1 Crohn's disease and 1 colitis ulcerosa trial had a robust random controlled trial (RCT) design. In regard to other gastrointestinal disorders, study quality was poor. In all trials, quality of life (QoL) improved significantly independently from the kind of acupuncture, real or sham. Real AC was significantly superior to sham acupuncture with regard to disease activity scores in the Crohn and Colitis trials. Efficacy of acupuncture related to QoL in IBS may be explained by unspecific effects. This is the same for QoL in inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), whereas specific acupuncture effects may be found in clinical scores. Further trials for IBDs and in particular for all other gastrointestinal disorders would be necessary to evaluate the efficacy of acupuncture treatment. However, it must be discussed on what terms patients benefit when this harmless and obviously powerful therapy with regard to QoL is demystified by further placebo controlled trials.
PMCID: PMC4146776  PMID: 17659687
Irritable bowel syndrome; Inflammatory bowel disease; Gastrointestinal disease; Placebo; Acupuncture
19.  Validation and cultural adaptation of a German version of the Physicians' Reactions to Uncertainty scales 
The aim of the study was to examine the validity of a translated and culturally adapted version of the Physicians' Reaction to Uncertainty scales (PRU) in primary care physicians.
In a structured process, the original questionnaire was translated, culturally adapted and assessed after administering it to 93 GPs. Test-retest reliability was tested by sending the questionnaire to the GPs again after two weeks.
The principal factor analysis confirmed the postulated four-factor structure underlying the 15 items. In contrast to the original version, item 5 achieved a higher loading on the 'concern about bad outcomes' scale. Consequently, we rearranged the scales. Good item-scale correlations were obtained, with Pearson's correlation coefficient ranging from 0.56–0.84. As regards the item-discriminant validity between the scales 'anxiety due to uncertainty' and 'concern about bad outcomes', partially high correlations (Pearson's correlation coefficient 0.02–0.69; p < 0.001) were found, indicating an overlap between both constructs. The assessment of internal consistency revealed satisfactory values; Cronbach's alpha of the rearranged version was 0.86 or higher for all scales. Test-retest-reliability, assessed by means of the intraclass-correlation-coefficient (ICC), exceeded 0.84, except for the 'reluctance to disclose mistakes to physicians' scale (ICC = 0.66). In this scale, some substantial floor effects occurred, with 29.3% of answers showing the lowest possible value.
Dealing with uncertainty is an important issue in daily practice. The psychometric properties of the rearranged German version of the PRU are satisfying. The revealed floor effects do not limit the significance of the questionnaire. Thus, the German version of the PRU could contribute to the further evaluation of the impact of uncertainty in primary care physicians.
PMCID: PMC1903353  PMID: 17562018
20.  The added value of C-reactive protein to clinical signs and symptoms in patients with obstructive airway disease: results of a diagnostic study in primary care 
BMC Family Practice  2006;7:28.
To evaluate the diagnostic accuracy of clinical signs and symptoms, C-reactive protein (CRP) and spirometric parameters and determine their interrelation in patients suspected to have an obstructive airway disease (OAD) in primary care.
In a cross sectional diagnostic study, 60 adult patients coming to the general practitioner (GP) for the first-time with complaints suspicious for obstructive airway disease (OAD) underwent spirometry. Peak expiratory flow (PEF)-variability within two weeks was determined in patients with inconspicuous spirometry. Structured medical histories were documented and CRP was measured. The reference standard was the Tiffeneau ratio (FEV1/VC) in spirometry and the PEF-variability. OAD was diagnosed when FEV1/VC ≤ 70% or PEF-variability > 20%.
37 (62%) patients had OAD. The best cut-off value for CRP was found at 2 mg/l with a diagnostic odds ratio (OR) of 4.4 (95% CI 1.4–13.8). Self-reported wheezing was significantly related with OAD (OR 3.4; CI 1.1–10.3), whereas coughing was inversely related (OR 0.2; CI 0.1–0.7). The diagnostic OR of CRP increased when combined with dyspnea (OR 8.5; 95% CI 1.7–42.3) or smoking history (OR 8.4; 95% CI 1.5–48.9). CRP (p = 0.004), FEV1 (p = 0.001) and FIV1 (p = 0.023) were related with the severity of dyspnea. CRP increased with the number of cigarettes, expressed in pack years (p = 0.001).
The diagnostic accuracy of clinical signs and symptoms was low. The diagnostic accuracy of CRP improved in combination with dyspnea and smoking history. Due to their coherence with the severity of dyspnea and number of cigarettes respectively, CRP and spirometry might allow risk stratification of patients with OAD in primary care. Further studies need to be done to confirm these findings.
PMCID: PMC1479349  PMID: 16670014
21.  Physicians perceived usefulness of high-cost diagnostic imaging studies: results of a referral study in a German medical quality network 
BMC Family Practice  2005;6:22.
Medical and technological progress has led to increased numbers of diagnostic tests, some of them inducing high financial costs. In Germany, high-cost diagnostic imaging is performed by a medical specialist after referral by a general practitioner (GP) or specialist in primary care. The aim of this study was to evaluate the physicians' perceived usefulness of high-cost diagnostic imaging in patients with different clinical conditions.
Thirty-four GPs, one neurologist and one orthopaedic specialist in ambulatory care from a Medical Quality Network documented 234 referrals concerning 97 MRIs, 96 CTs-scan and 41 intracardiac catheters in a three month period. After having received the test results, they indicated if these were useful for diagnosis and treatment of the patient.
The physicians' perceived usefulness of tests was lowest in suspected cerebral disease (40% of test results were seen as useful), cervical spine problems (64%) and unexplained abdominal complaints (67%). The perceived usefulness was highest in musculoskeletal symptoms (94%) and second best in cardiological diseases (82%).
The perceived usefulness of high-cost diagnostic imaging was lower in unexplained complaints than in specific diseases. Interventions to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of test ordering should focus on clinical decision making in conditions where GPs perceived low usefulness.
PMCID: PMC1174867  PMID: 15941483
22.  Are ICD-10 codes appropriate for performance assessment in asthma and COPD in general practice? Results of a cross sectional observational study 
The increasing prevalence and impact of obstructive lung diseases and new insights, reflected in clinical guidelines, have led to concerns about the diagnosis and therapy of asthma and COPD in primary care. In Germany diagnoses written in medical records are used for reimbursement, which may influence physicians' documentation behaviour. For that reason it is unclear to what respect ICD-10 codes reflect the real problems of the patients in general practice. The aim of this study was to assess the appropriateness of the recorded diagnoses and to determine what diagnostic information is used to guide medical treatment.
All patients with lower airway symptoms (n = 857) who had attended six general practices between January and June 2003 were included into this cross sectional observational study. Patients were selected from the computerised medical record systems, focusing on ICD-10-codes concerning lower airway diseases (J20-J22, J40-J47, J98 and R05). The performed diagnostic procedures and actual medication for each identified patient were extracted manually. Then we examined the associations between recorded diagnoses, diagnostic procedures and prescribed treatment for asthma and COPD in general practice.
Spirometry was used in 30% of the patients with a recorded diagnosis of asthma and in 58% of the patients with a recorded diagnosis of COPD. Logistic regression analysis showed an improved use of spirometry when inhaled corticosteroids were prescribed for asthma (OR = 5.2; CI 2.9–9.2) or COPD (OR = 4.7; CI 2.0–10.6). Spirometry was also used more often when sympathomimetics were prescribed (asthma: OR = 2.3; CI 1.2–4.2; COPD: OR = 4.1; CI 1.8–9.4).
This study revealed that spirometry was used more often when corticosteroids or sympathomimetics were prescribed. The findings suggest that treatment was based on diagnostic test results rather than on recorded diagnoses. The documented ICD-10 codes may not always reflect the real status of the patients. Thus medical care for asthma and COPD in general practice may be better than initially found on the basis of recorded diagnoses, although further improvement of practice patterns in asthma and COPD is still necessary.
PMCID: PMC549048  PMID: 15683548

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