Hypertension Protocols Curb Racial Bias in Therapeutic Inertia

Therapeutic inertia regarding intensification of blood pressure treatment has been shown to be more of an issue in Black patients, but this was not the case in the SPRINT trial, which involved a strict standardized approach to blood pressure management, a new analysis shows.

“Overall, we found that therapeutic inertia was similar in different races in the SPRINT trial. We did not see disparities that have been reported in previous observational studies,” lead author, Alexander Zheutlin, MD, University of Utah School of Medicine, Salt Lake City, told theheart.org | Medscape Cardiology.

“These results show that a well-resourced approach in which a standardized approach to blood pressure measurement and treatment intensification is followed can overcome the racial disparity that is seen in therapeutic inertia and the treatment of blood pressure,” he added.

The study was published online in JAMA Network Open on January 10.

The authors explain that hypertension remains a leading modifiable cause of racial disparities in cardiovascular disease. Despite similar treatment rates and increased availability of safe, effective, and affordable antihypertensive medications, blood pressure control rates among Black and Hispanic adults remain significantly lower than among White adults in the United States, and one of the factors contributing to this is thought to be therapeutic inertia — the phenomenon of clinicians not initiating or up-titrating clinically indicated therapy in the setting of unmet treatment goals.

The current analysis of the SPRINT trial was conducted to investigate whether racial and ethnic differences in therapeutic inertia in hypertension were present when blood pressure care was standardized and protocolized.

The landmark SPRINT trial compared intensive (

Results showed that the overall prevalence of therapeutic inertia — defined as no antihypertensive medication intensification at each study visit where the blood pressure was above target goal — was either similar or lower for Black and Hispanic participants than for White participants. This pattern was observed whether participants were randomized to the standard or intensive treatment group.

“These findings support the idea that a standardized approach to blood pressure management, as implemented in SPRINT, may help ensure equitable care is provided to all patients and could reduce the contribution of therapeutic inertia to disparities in uncontrolled blood pressure,” the authors say.

They point out that therapeutic inertia has been identified as a key clinician-level barrier to blood pressure control and is estimated to be present in more than 80% of clinic visits in community practice, whereas in the current analysis of the SPRINT trial, therapeutic inertia was present in 50% to 60% of participant visits with uncontrolled blood pressure.

“In SPRINT, blood pressure had to be measured at defined intervals with a specific method, and there were clear instructions on intensifying treatment if blood pressure was above a certain goal,” Zheutlin noted. “Our results show that within such strict confines, therapeutic inertia does not seem to be different between different racial groups. This suggests that we could make better gains in blood pressure control and more equitable treatment if we adopted a standardized approach to hypertension management.”

He added: “Many guidelines have been published on when to start treatment and the targets for blood pressure, but there is a lot of variation in how we turn these guidelines into protocols. We need to bring in more consistent protocols on blood pressure measurement and intensification, and ensure they are followed. In practice, if the BP is 5 or 10 mm Hg above target, a clinician may defer a decision to intensify treatment and intensification never gets done. But if there was a strict protocol to follow there would be less chance of this happening.”

Therapeutic Inertia Still High

In an accompanying commentary, Matthew Rivara, MD, Nisha Bansal, MD, and Bessie Young, MD, University of Washington, Seattle, say the current SPRINT analysis has broad implications for reducing racial and ethnic disparities in achievement of evidence-based treatment targets in the general population.

“In hypertension management, standardized protocols for medication adjustments may limit clinician practice heterogeneity to ultimately reduce differences in blood pressure control among racial and ethnic minority populations,” they write. But they add that such protocols must be implemented thoughtfully to incorporate individualized clinical assessment and clinician-patient shared decision-making.

Rivara at el point out that the rates of therapeutic inertia in SPRINT, while lower than community-based estimates, were still very high. They suggest reasons for this could include clinician concerns about medication efficacy, adverse effects, and patient mistrust of medical professionals. Outside the clinical trial environment, additional considerations may include prescription drug and laboratory test costs, pharmacy access, and competing demands during busy clinic visits.

To address these challenges, they say that clinicians need education on current clinical practice guidelines, how to manage complications of intensified antihypertensive therapies, and training on shared decision-making, including culturally sensitive collaborative care. Similarly, care systems must support patients on how to address concerns about treatments.

Finally, further research is needed to better define the specific factors associated with therapeutic inertia to allow tailored interventions to overcome this inertia.

“In designing and performing such research, it is vital that investigators engage with racial and ethnic minority groups to better explore the intersection of race, ethnicity, therapeutic decision-making, trust, and shared decision-making,” they add.

The SPRINT trial was funded with federal funds from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Zheutlin reported receiving grants from the NIH during the conduct of the study.

JAMA Network Open. Published online January 10, 2022. Full text, Commentary

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