Dementia assessment and management in primary care settings: a survey of current provider practices in the United States

BMC health services research

BMC Health Serv Res. 2019 Nov 29;19(1):919. doi: 10.1186/s12913-019-4603-2.


Background: Primary care providers (PCPs) are typically the first to screen and evaluate patients for neurocognitive disorders (NCDs), including mild cognitive impairment and dementia. However, data on PCP attitudes and evaluation and management practices are sparse. Our objective was to quantify perspectives and behaviors of PCPs and neurologists with respect to NCD evaluation and management.

Methods: A cross-sectional survey with 150 PCPs and 50 neurologists in the United States who evaluated more than 10 patients over age 55 per month. The 51-item survey assessed clinical practice characteristics, and confidence, perceived barriers, and typical practices when diagnosing and managing patients with NCDs.

Results: PCPs and neurologists reported similar confidence and approaches to general medical care and laboratory testing. Though over half of PCPs performed cognitive screening or referred patients for cognitive testing in over 50% of their patients, only 20% reported high confidence in interpreting results of cognitive tests. PCPs were more likely to order CT scans than MRIs, and only 14% of PCPs reported high confidence interpreting brain imaging findings, compared to 70% of specialists. Only 21% of PCPs were highly confident that they correctly recognized when a patient had an NCD, and only 13% were highly confident in making a specific NCD diagnosis (compared to 72 and 44% for neurologists, both p < 0.001). A quarter of all providers identified lack of familiarity with diagnostic criteria for NCD syndromes as a barrier to clinical practice.

Conclusions: This study demonstrates how PCPs approach diagnosis and management of patients with NCDs, and identified areas for improvement in regards to cognitive testing and neuroimaging. This study also identified all providers' lack of familiarity with published diagnostic criteria for NCD syndromes. These findings may inform the development of new policies and interventions to help providers improve the efficacy of their decision processes and deliver better quality care to patients with NCDs.

PMID: 31783848 PMCID: PMC6884754 DOI: 10.1186/s12913-019-4603-2