Patient Care

ITL: Physician Reviews of HM-Relevant Research


In This Edition

Literature At A Glance

A guide to this month’s studies

  1. Value of routine preoperative urine screening assessed
  2. Impact of hospitalist-led intermediate care on patient survival
  3. Risks of blood transfusion to treat upper GI bleeding
  4. Low-dose steroids and increased mortality in sepsis
  5. Reduced length of stay and hospital readmission rates
  6. Restrictive blood transfusion strategies better for acute myocardial infarction
  7. Trends in GI illnesses and their associated costs
  8. Apixaban as a stand-alone anticoagulant in patients with VTE
  9. Guidelines for upper endoscopy use in gastroesophageal reflux disease

Avoid Preoperative Urine Culture in Nonurologic Surgical Procedures

Clinical question: Is routine preoperative urine screening beneficial?

Background: The value of preoperative urine screening is unproven, except before urologic procedures. Furthermore, treatment of asymptomatic bacteriuria may lead to adverse events, including diarrhea, allergic reactions, and Clostridium difficile infection (CDI).

Study design: Retrospective chart review.

Setting: Patients who underwent cardiothoracic, orthopedic, and vascular surgeries at the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Medical Center in 2010.

Synopsis: A total of 1,934 procedures were performed on 1,699 patients, most of which were orthopedics procedures (1,291 in 1,115 patients). A urine culture was obtained before 25% of procedures with significant variation by service (cardiothoracic, 85%; vascular, 48%; orthopedic, 4%). Bacteriuria was detected in 11% of urine cultures (54 of 489), but antimicrobial drugs were dispensed to just 16 patients.

To identify correlates of preoperative urine culture use, patients with and without urine cultures were compared. The rate of surgical-site infection was similar for both groups. Postoperative UTI was more frequent among patients with bacteriuria. Rates of diarrhea, allergy, and CDI did not differ. Paradoxically, patients treated for preoperative UTI were more likely to develop surgical-site infections (45% vs. 14%; P=0.03). Postoperative UTI was also more frequent among treated patients versus untreated patients (18% vs. 7%).

Bottom line: This is the largest study to assess outcomes for routine preoperative urine cultures. These findings demonstrate that preoperative screening for, and treatment of, asymptomatic bacteriuria should be avoided in patients undergoing nonurologic surgical procedures.

Citation: Drekonja DM, Zarmbinski B, Johnson JR. Preoperative urine culture at a veterans affairs medical center. JAMA Intern Med. 2013;173(1):71-72.

Intermediate Care Staffed by Hospitalists: Impact on Mortality, Comanagement, and Teaching

Clinical question: Does a hospitalist-led intermediate-care unit improve patient survival?

Background: Hospitalized patients are complex, and institutions often have to balance matching patient acuity to either an ICU or a regular ward. However, an intermediate-care setting might be an attractive strategy to provide rational care according to patient needs while expanding comanagement and teaching services.

Study design: Retrospective observational study.

Setting: Intermediate-care unit of a single academic hospital.

Synopsis: In-hospital mortality in this intermediate-care unit was 20.6%, whereas the expected mortality was 23.2% based on Simplified Acute Physiology Score II (SAPS II) score. The correlation between SAPS II predicted and observed death rates was accurate and statistically significant (P<0.001). Comanagement was performed with several medical and surgical teams, with an increase in perioperative comanagement of 22.7% (P=0.014). The number of training residents in the intermediate-care unit increased to 30.4% from 4.3% (P=0.002).

Bottom line: An intermediate-care unit led by hospitalists showed encouraging results in patient mortality, as well as comanagement and teaching opportunities.

Citation: Lucena JF, Alegre F, Rodil R, et al. Results of a retrospective observational study of intermediate care staffed by hospitalists: impact on mortality, co-management, and teaching. J Hosp Med. 2012;7(5):411-415.

Blood Transfusion Associated with Increased Risk of Rebleeding in Patients with Nonvariceal Upper GI Bleeding

Clinical question: Does more liberal use of blood transfusions in the setting of nonvariceal upper GI bleeding result in patient harm?

Background: Randomized controlled trials have demonstrated that a more liberal approach to blood transfusions for patients in the medical intensive-care unit results in higher mortality. However, the potential harmful effect of blood transfusions in the setting of GI bleeding has not been demonstrated.

Study design: Retrospective cohort study.

Setting: Canadian hospitals.

Synopsis: Based on a retrospective analysis of the Canadian Registry of patients with Upper Gastrointestinal Bleeding and Endoscopy (RUGBE), the authors determined there was a statistically significant association between patients who received a blood transfusion for the management of nonvariceal upper GI bleeding and the risk of rebleeding. The rate of rebleeding in patients who received a blood transfusion was 23.6% compared with 11.3% in patients who were not transfused (P<0.01). There was no statistically significant difference in mortality.

Although this was a reasonably large observational study that included 1,677 patients with nonvariceal upper GI bleeding, it is vulnerable to confounding. It suggests the need to further study potential harm of blood transfusion in the setting of GI bleeding, but it should not result in a change in clinical practice at this time.

Bottom line: Prospective randomized studies are needed to determine if there are harmful effects of blood transfusions in the setting of GI bleeding and to better define a threshold for transfusion.

Citation: Restellini S, Kherad O, Jairath V, Martel M, Barkun AN. Red blood cell transfusion is associated with increased rebleeding in patients with nonvariceal upper gastrointestinal bleeding. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2013;37:316-322.

Low-Dose Steroids in Sepsis Associated with Increase in Mortality

Clinical question: What is the role of steroids in the treatment of adult patients with sepsis?

Background: The Surviving Sepsis Campaign guidelines have previously recommended administering steroids to patients with septic shock not responsive to fluid resuscitation and who require vasopressors. However, prior randomized clinical trials studying the use of steroids in these settings have produced conflicting results.

Study design: Retrospective cohort study.

Setting: Two hundred fifty-two hospitals in North America, South America, and Europe.

Synopsis: The Surviving Sepsis Campaign management bundle has been shown to reduce mortality in patients with sepsis. However, it is not known which particular elements of the management bundle result in improved mortality. The Surviving Sepsis Campaign database included 17,847 patients who required vasopressor therapy after adequate fluid resuscitation. This subgroup was analyzed to see if there was a difference in mortality between patients who received low-dose steroids versus those who did not receive steroids. The mortality rate among those who received steroids was statistically higher (with odds ratio of 1.18 and P<0.001) compared with those who did not receive steroids. This finding adds to the body of evidence that calls into question the commonplace practice of administrating steroids to septic patients on vasopressor therapy.

The most recent campaign guidelines recommend the use of steroids in septic patients only if both adequate fluid resuscitation and vasopressor therapy are not able to restore hemodynamic stability.

Bottom line: Further studies are needed to better define the role of steroids in the treatment of sepsis.

Citation: Casserly B, Gerlach H, Phillips GS, et al. Low-dose steroids in adult septic shock: results of the Surviving Sepsis Campaign. Intensive Care Med. 2012;38:1946-1954.

Link Between Length of Stay and Readmission Rates

Clinical question: How has reducing length of stay affected hospital readmission rates?

Background: There are ongoing concerns that improving a hospital’s efficiency by reducing length of stay (LOS) could be associated with higher hospital readmission rates. However, no studies evaluating the relationship between LOS and readmission rates have been done using recent data.

Study design: Retrospective observational study.

Setting: All acute-care Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals in the U.S.

Synopsis: A total of 4,124,907 index admissions were included in the final sample from all acute medical admissions in 129 acute-care VA hospitals from October 1996 to September 2010. The primary outcomes were the hospital LOS and the 30-day readmission rate. Index admissions for heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), acute myocardial infarction (AMI), community-acquired pneumonia, and gastrointestinal hemorrhage were also analyzed separately.

The risk-adjusted analysis of LOS demonstrated significant reductions for all admissions over the 14-year period, to 3.98 days from 5.44 days, and for all of the individual conditions with reductions ranging from 1.40 days for gastrointestinal hemorrhage to 2.85 days for AMI. There were similar significant reductions in 30-day readmission rates for all admissions to 13.8% from 16.5% and within the individual conditions ranging from 0.9% in community-acquired pneumonia to 3.3% in COPD. These results show that the reductions in LOS did not increase the risk of readmissions. The major limitation of the study was that these data are only from a single healthcare system.

Bottom line: Data from VA hospitals show that reductions in LOS do not have adverse effects on 30-day readmission rates; instead, both LOS and readmission rates improved over the same time period.

Citation: Kaboli PJ, Go JT, Hockenberry J, et al. Associations between reduced hospital length of stay and 30-day readmission rate and mortality: 14-year experience in 129 Veterans Affairs hospitals. Ann Intern Med. 2012;157:837-845.

Better to Restrict Blood Transfusions in Acute Myocardial Infarction

Clinical question: Is a liberal or restrictive blood transfusion strategy better in patients with anemia and acute myocardial infarction?

Background: Patients with acute myocardial infarction (AMI) are often given therapies that can increase their risk for bleeding and anemia, and it is known that AMI patients have a worse prognosis if they have concomitant anemia. No clear consensus exists on the benefit or harm of blood transfusions in AMI patients.

Study design: Systematic review and meta-analysis.

Setting: Ten articles included in the qualitative and quantitative analyses out of 729 screened articles from Jan. 1, 1966, to March 31, 2012, using the search terms “transfusion,” “myocardial infarction,” and “mortality” in English language.

Synopsis: A total of 203,665 study participants were identified from the 10 studies (one randomized and nine observational) that met the inclusion and exclusion criteria. All-cause mortality was significantly higher in AMI patients who received a blood transfusion compared with those who did not (18.2% vs. 10.2%). However, this difference was not statistically significant in patients that had a STEMI or in patients with a baseline hematocrit less than 30%. A multivariate meta-regression with several covariates, excluding demographics, also showed that blood transfusion was associated with higher mortality and higher risk for subsequent myocardial infarction. There was significant heterogeneity in all results, but no single study was found as the source of the heterogeneity, and no significant publication bias was identified. The major limitations to this study are that there is a paucity of randomized trials available that pertain to this specific topic and the authors did not have patient-level covariates to include in their analyses.

Bottom line: There appears to be an increased risk of mortality and subsequent myocardial infarction in AMI patients who receive blood transfusions versus those who do not.

Citation: Chatterjee S, Wetterslev J, Sharma A, Lichstein E, Mukherjee D. Association of blood transfusion with increased mortality in myocardial infarction: a meta-analysis and diversity-adjusted study sequential analysis. JAMA Intern Med. 2013;173(2):132-139.

Trends in GI Illnesses and Their Associated Costs

Clinical question: What are the new trends in GI illnesses and their associated costs?

Background: The frequency of illnesses and their treatment costs have changed over the last decade. In order to help healthcare providers focus their attention on these new trends, a new compilation of data is needed.

Study design: Epidemiological analysis.

Setting: Various governmental and private databases representing outpatient clinics, hospitals, and death certificates from multiple regions of the U.S.

Synopsis: The analysis was blinded to patient identifiers but represented multiple regions of the U.S. Symptoms were abstracted from patient surveys, and the rest of the data were collected from record review. The most common reported symptoms were abdominal pain, followed by nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, and heartburn. The most common clinic diagnoses were reflux, abdominal pain, enteritis/dyspepsia, and constipation. The most common inpatient discharge primary diagnoses included acute pancreatitis, cholecystitis, and diverticulitis. Impressive increases were seen in the number of morbidly obese, C. diff, and fatty liver diagnoses.

Colon cancer was the most common GI malignancy and had the highest mortality. C. diff was the ninth-leading cause of GI-related deaths. All types of scopes (except endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography) were performed more commonly now than in the past, with colonoscopy being the most common. The most common indication for an upper endoscopy was reflux, which was also the most common outpatient GI diagnosis.

Bottom line: Healthcare providers need to be aware of new GI illness trends and their associated costs.

Citation: Peery AF, Dellon ES, Lund J, et al. Burden of gastrointestinal disease in the United States: 2012 update. Gastroenterol. 2012;143:1179-1187.

Is Apixaban a Good Stand-Alone Anticoagulant for Extended Treatment in VTE Patients?

Clinical question: Is apixaban an option for the extended treatment of VTE in a simple, fixed-dose regimen?

Background: Apixaban is an oral factor Xa inhibitor that is administered in fixed doses without the need for laboratory monitoring. In the Apixaban after the Initial Management of Pulmonary Embolism and Deep Vein Thrombosis with First-Line Therapy—Extended Treatment (AMPLIFY-EXT) study, investigators compared the efficacy and safety of two doses of apixaban (2.5 mg and 5 mg) with those of placebo in patients with VTE who had completed six to 12 months of anticoagulation therapy and for whom treating physicians were uncertain about continuing therapy. Additional aims of the study were to determine whether the lower dose of apixaban was effective and whether it was associated with less bleeding than the higher dose, and to examine the effect of treatment on arterial thrombotic outcomes.

Study design: Randomized, double-blind study.

Synopsis: A total of 2,486 patients underwent randomization, 2,482 of whom were included in the intention-to-treat analyses. Symptomatic recurrent VTE or death from VTE occurred in 73 of the 829 patients (8.8%) who were receiving placebo, compared with 14 of the 840 patients (1.7%) who were receiving 2.5 mg of apixaban (a difference of 7.2 percentage points; 95% confidence interval [CI], 5.0 to 9.3) and 14 of the 813 patients (1.7%) who were receiving 5 mg of apixaban (a difference of 7.0 percentage points; 95% CI, 4.9 to 9.1) (P<0.001 for both comparisons). The rates of major bleeding were 0.5% in the placebo group, 0.2% in the 2.5-mg apixaban group, and 0.1% in the 5-mg apixaban group. The rates of clinically relevant nonmajor bleeding were 2.3% in the placebo group, 3.0% in the 2.5-mg apixaban group, and 4.2% in the 5-mg apixaban group. The rate of death from any cause was 1.7% in the placebo group, compared with 0.8% in the 2.5-mg apixaban group and 0.5% in the 5-mg apixaban group.

Bottom line: Apixaban is a safe and effective anticoagulant for extended anticoagulation in patients with VTE initially treated with six to 12 months of warfarin.

Citation: Agnelli GM, Buller HR, Cohen A, et al. Apixaban for extended treatment of venous thromboembolism. N Engl J Med. 2013;368(8):699-708.

ACP Guideline Review: Upper Endoscopy for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

Clinical question: What are the indications of upper endoscopy in the setting of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)?

Background: GERD is a common condition. Upper endoscopy is widely available and routinely used for diagnosis and management of GERD and its complications. The indications for this procedure are not clearly defined. Overuse of upper endoscopy contributes to higher healthcare costs without improving patient outcomes.

Study design: Literature review and comparison of clinical guidelines from professional organizations by a team of general internists, gastroenterologists, and clinical epidemiologists. The document was not based on a formal systemic review but was intended to provide practical advice based on the best available evidence.

Synopsis: Best practice advice No. 1: Upper endoscopy is indicated in men and women with heartburn and alarm symptoms (dysphagia, bleeding, anemia, weight loss, and recurrent vomiting).

Best practice advice No. 2: Upper endoscopy is indicated in men and women with typical GERD symptoms that persist despite a therapeutic trial of four to eight weeks of twice-daily proton-pump inhibitor therapy, severe erosive esophagitis after a two-month course of proton-pump inhibitor therapy to assess healing and rule out Barrett esophagus, and history of esophageal stricture who have recurrent symptoms of dysphagia.

Best practice advice No. 3: Upper endoscopy might be indicated in men older than 50 with chronic GERD symptoms (symptoms for more than five years) and additional risk factors (nocturnal reflux symptoms, hiatal hernia, elevated body mass index, tobacco use, and intra-abdominal distribution of fat) to detect esophageal adenocarcinoma and Barrett esophagus. It might also be indicated for surveillance evaluation in men and women with a history of Barrett esophagus. In men and women with Barrett esophagus and no dysplasia, surveillance examinations should occur at intervals no more frequently than three to five years. More frequent intervals are indicated in patients with Barrett esophagus and dysplasia.

Bottom line: Use upper endoscopy selectively for patients with GERD.

Citation: Shaheen NJ, Weinberg DS, Denberg TD, et al. Upper endoscopy for gastroesophageal reflux disease: best practice advice from the Clinical Guidelines Committee of the American College of Physicians. Ann Intern Med. 2012;157(11):808-816.

Clinical Shorts


A randomized crossover noninferiority trial demonstrated that shorter inpatient attending physician rotations did not result in more unplanned patient visits and were associated with lower attending-physician burnout.

Citation: Lucas BP, Trick WE, Evans AT, et al. Effects of two- vs. four-week attending physician inpatient rotations on unplanned patient revisits, evaluations by trainees, and attending physician burnout: a randomized trial. JAMA. 2012;308(21):2199-2207.


Analysis from The Health Improvement Network (THIN) database with 6.4 million patients showed that the use of quinolones was associated with Achilles tendonitis and tendon rupture in individuals >60 years of age, nonobese persons, and patients on glucocorticoid therapy.

Citation: Wise BL, Peloquin C, Choi H, Lane NE, Zhang Y. Impact of age, sex, obesity, and steroid use on quinolone-associated tendon disorders. Am J Med. 2012;125(12):1228.e23-1228.e28.

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