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GPs ‘overestimate harms and benefits of drugs’, say researchers

GPs may be overestimating the risks and benefits of different drugs for long-term illnesses, meaning they are relying on their broad understanding rather than detailed knowledge of different treatments, a study has found.

The Oxford-based researchers said that the discrepancies are of a magnitude that is likely to ‘meaningfully’ affect clinical decision-making. 

The study, published in the British Journal of General Practice, interviewed just under 450 GPs about the effects of different drugs for conditions like osteoporosis, diabetes and atrial fibrillation.

They found that almost 90% of GPs overestimated the extent to which a patient would benefit from a drug, by reducing their risk of their condition worsening, or be at risk of side-effects.

They also found that only 23% of respondents gave correct answers when asked to estimate the effects of drugs like aspirin for stroke prevention, statins and alendronate.

The authors said in the paper: ’Dependent on clinical context and patient preferences, these inaccuracies in understanding could have negative implications for shared decision-making.’

Lead author Dr Julian Treadwell, a GP and doctoral research fellow in Oxford University’s Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, said: ‘No-one would expect us to have encyclopaedic knowledge, but our survey found the range of GPs’ estimates of the benefits and harms of treatment to be highly varied and often inaccurate.

‘When we are sitting in our surgeries, this is likely to affect the choices we make with our patients, particularly when faced with deciding which combination of several options will suit them best.’

But he stressed this ‘isn’t the fault of individual GPs not keeping up to date’.

He said: ‘It is a system-wide failure in how we receive up-to date information about treatments. This kind of detailed information isn’t available to us via clinical guidelines. There is so much research being produced, it is impossible for healthcare professionals across the world to read original research papers to extract the figures they need.’


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