U.S. primary care physicians are not properly checking patients with type 2 diabetes for chronic kidney disease (CKD) nearly as often as they should, meaning many of these patients miss getting a timely diagnosis.
Inadequate measurement of urinary albumin-to-creatinine ratio (uACR) is the issue.
Review of data from more than half a million U.S. primary care patients with type 2 diabetes seen at any of 1,164 practice sites run by any of 24 health care organizations during 2016-2019 showed that barely more than half, 52%, had both their uACR and estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) checked annually as recommended by several U.S. medical societies, and just 73% had both values checked during a 3-year period, Nikita Stempniewicz, MSc, and associates reported in Diabetes Care.
More detailed data showed that measurement of eGFR was reasonably robust, measured at a 90% rate annually and in 97% of patients at least once every 3 years. But recording uACR values lagged, with a 53% annual rate and a 74% rate of measurement at least once every 3 years, reported Stempniewicz, director of research and analytics for the American Medical Group Association, a trade association based in Alexandria, Va. The 24 health care organizations that supplied the study’s data are all members of this association.
Prevailing recommendations from various medical societies call for annual monitoring of urinary albumin in patients with type 2 diabetes and specify the uACR, such as in the Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes from the American Diabetes Association, as well as in recommendations promoted by the National Kidney Foundation.
Missing Half the CKD Patients With eGFR Only
“Half the patients with type 2 diabetes and chronic kidney disease have elevated albuminuria without decreased eGFR and would not be detected with eGFR testing alone,” Stempniewicz noted in an interview.
“Many patients who present for nephrology care are incompletely assessed with only low eGFR but no urine testing. Missing albuminuria testing and uACR values means patients with high levels of albuminuria but normal kidney function go undetected and thus are not able to benefit from evidenced-based interventions, including nephrology services,” said Joseph A. Vassalotti, MD, a nephrologist, chief medical officer for the National Kidney Foundation, and a coauthor of the report.
Not testing patients with type 2 diabetes regularly for their uACR “is a missed opportunity to identify the highest-risk patients and treat them,” added Josef Coresh, MD, PhD, a professor of clinical epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, and senior author on the study. Measurement of albuminuria is especially important for these patients because medications from the sodium-glucose cotransporter 2 inhibitor class have been proven to slow progression of CKD in patients with type 2 diabetes, but these drugs are expensive, and in some cases have labeling that specifies the presence of albuminuria.
“I have no doubt that improving albuminuria testing is a critical step to identify patients with diabetes at highest risk who should get the best treatment possible, including SGLT2 inhibitors,” Coresh said in an interview.
The new report is not the first to document inadequate assessment of albuminuria and uACR among primary care physicians (PCPs), but it came from the largest reported U.S. study to date. “eGFR is commonly collected in a routine laboratory blood panel, but collecting urine requires additional work flow,” noted Cara B. Litvin, MD, a general internal medicine researcher at the Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, who has tested interventions aimed at boosting CKD assessment by PCPs and was not involved in the new study.
“There have also been conflicting guidelines,” such as a “now-inactive guideline from the American College of Physicians that recommended against routine urine albumin screening in patients with diabetes and already on treatment with an angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitor or an angiotensin receptor blocker,” she said.
New Renal Drugs Change the Stakes
The availability of newer drugs for slowing CKD progression such as the SGLT2 inhibitors will help trigger greater support for routine albuminuria testing, Litvin predicted in an interview. “Now that we have more medications that can reduce albuminuria and improve outcomes, I see screening for albuminuria increasing.” Finerenone (Kerendia) is another new agent from a new class that recently received Food and Drug Administration approval for treating CKD in patients with type 2 diabetes.
Other drivers of increased uACR testing she expects include revised clinical practice guidelines, and new quality measures of clinical care.
“Undertesting of albuminuria means that [nephrologists] have incomplete data to detect and completely risk stratify the CKD population. That in turn results in a reduced ability to match population health interventions to the severity of the condition or the risk stratification based on eGFR and uACR,” Vassalotti said in an interview.
“We are missing opportunities to prevent or delay kidney failure and reduce the risk of cardiovascular events and cardiovascular death in these patients, particularly now that we have a number of medications that offer kidney and cardiovascular protection such as SGLT2 inhibitors,” he added. “Leaders in nephrology are beginning to understand the consequences of undertesting, and are working to innovate to improve risk stratification, CKD detection, and apply interventions to give Americans living with CKD better outcomes.”
Strategies Proven to Boost Albuminuria Testing
Stempniewicz and coauthors cited in their report potential strategies for improving albuminuria testing, including benchmarking to identify best-performing sites for albumin testing within a health system and encouraging replication of identified best practices at lower-performing sites, and implementation of clinical-decision support tools in the EHR such as pop-up test reminders.
These were among the tools tested in two studies led by Litvin. One study, with results reported in 2016, involved 12 small U.S. primary care practices with a total of more than 30,000 patients and compared performance in a series of clinical quality measures at baseline with performance after 2 years of receiving various interventions designed to boost awareness for albuminuria testing.
The second study, with findings reported in 2019, involved 21 U.S. primary care practices that collectively cared for more than 100,000 patients and randomized the practices to either undergo interventions aimed at boosting testing awareness or to serve as controls.
Results from both studies showed significant and substantial increases in serial testing for albuminuria in patients with diabetes or hypertension when practices received the interventions.
“We showed that [using a] clinical-decision support tool, along with standing orders to automatically collect urine specimens, dramatically increased screening for urinary albumin in primary care practices,” Litvin said. “However, perhaps because of conflicting guidelines and clinical inertia there hasn’t been a major impetus for primary care practices in general to improve screening.” She hopes that will quickly change.
“As we have shown, adoption of EHR-based reminders along with standing orders can very quickly improve screening for albuminuria in primary care.”
Variation in Testing Rates Among Sites ‘Tremendous ‘
One finding of the new study gives Stempniewicz hope for greater future testing: The large variance that the researchers saw in albuminuria testing rates within individual health systems.
“The paper shows that higher rates of testing are completely achievable within each system. Some clinics do very well, and the other units can learn from these local successes,” he said. At least half the organizations in the study had individual sites that fell into the top 10% for testing rates across all the greater than 1,000 sites included, and those same organizations also had at least one site that fell into the bottom 10% for testing.
“The variation is tremendous, and highlights an opportunity for improvement,” declared Stempniewicz.
“For routine testing, you need systems that help people. Clinicians shouldn’t have to think about doing routine testing. It should just happen,” said Coresh.
The study was funded in part by Janssen. Stempniewicz and Litvin had no disclosures. Coresh is an adviser to Healthy.io, a company that markets a home albuminuria testing kit to patients. Vassalotti has received personal fees from Renalytix.
This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.