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Objectives: To explore the views of clinicians and lay people about the minimum benefit needed to justify drug treatment to prevent heart attacks, and to explore the rationale behind treatment decisions.
Design: Qualitative study using semi-structured interviews.
Participants: 4 general practitioners, 4 practice nurses, and 18 lay people.
SETTING: 8 general practices and 6 community settings across Liverpool.
RESULTS: Participants varied widely in the minimum acceptable benefits chosen. Most people found the concepts difficult initially, and few appreciated that increased length of treatment should increase absolute benefits. Lay people usually wanted to make decisions for themselves, and clinicians supported this. Participants wanted to consider adverse effects and costs of treatment. Dislike of drug taking was common, and many people preferred lifestyle change to an imperfect treatment. Quality of life and personal views were more important than an individual’s age.
CONCLUSIONS: Evidence based guidelines make assumptions about people’s preferences, and, by using 10 year estimates of risk, inflate the apparent benefits of treatment. It is unlikely that guidelines could incorporate the wide range of people’s preferences, and true dialogue is necessary between clinicians and patients before starting long term preventive treatment.