Original Research

Reducing Unnecessary Treatment of Asymptomatic Elevated Blood Pressure with Intravenous Medications on the General Internal Medicine Wards: A Quality Improvement Initiative


BACKGROUND: Asymptomatic elevated blood pressure (BP) is common in the hospital. There is no evidence supporting the use of intravenous (IV) antihypertensives in this setting.
OBJECTIVE: To determine the prevalence and effects of treating asymptomatic elevated BP with IV antihypertensives and to investigate the efficacy of a quality improvement (QI) initiative aimed at reducing utilization of these medications.
DESIGN: Retrospective cohort study.
SETTING: Urban academic hospital. PATIENTS: Patients admitted to the general medicine service, including the intensive care unit (ICU), with ≥1 episode of asymptomatic elevated BP (>160/90 mm Hg) during hospitalization.
INTERVENTION: A two-tiered, QI initiative.
MEASUREMENTS: The primary outcome was the monthly proportion of patients with asymptomatic elevated BP treated with IV labetalol or hydralazine. We also analyzed median BP and rates of balancing outcomes (ICU transfers, rapid responses, cardiopulmonary arrests).
RESULTS: We identified 2,306 patients with ≥1 episode of asymptomatic elevated BP during the 10-month preintervention period, of which 251 (11%) received IV antihypertensives. In the four-month postintervention period, 70 of 934 (7%) were treated. The odds of being treated were 38% lower in the postintervention period after adjustment for baseline characteristics, including length of stay and illness severity (OR = 0.62; 95% CI 0.47-0.83; P = .001). Median SBP was similar between pre- and postintervention (167 vs 168 mm Hg; P = .78), as were the adjusted proportions of balancing outcomes.
CONCLUSIONS: Hospitalized patients with asymptomatic elevated BP are commonly treated with IV antihypertensives, despite the lack of evidence. A QI initiative was successful at reducing utilization of these medications.

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