Background Ischaemic heart disease is the commonest cause of mortality in the United Kingdom. The objective of this study was to assess the management of patients with ischaemic heart disease in primary care, focusing particularly on the management of hypercholesterolaemia.

Methods A cross-sectional survey was carried out of the clinical records of patients aged 25-74 years with confirmed ischaemic heart disease in six general practices (total list size 56 600).

Results Recording of risk factors varied from 97 per cent for blood pressure to 73 per cent for cholesterol measurement. Seventy-two per cent of the patients had adequate blood pressure control, based on their last recorded blood pressure. Sixty-one per cent (267) were known to be taking aspirin daily and 29 per cent (125) had undergone revascularization treatment. Sixty-eight per cent (296) of the patients had pre-treatment cholesterol levels of 5.5 mmol/l or greater and 34 per cent (147) were currently taking lipid lowering drugs. Statins were the most commonly used cholesterol lowering agents and were being taken by 30 per cent (131) of the patients. Patients who had undergone revascularization treatment had levels of recording of risk factors similar to other patients with ischaemic heart disease but were more likely to be taking daily aspirin (71 per cent versus 57 per cent, relative risk 1.24, 95 per cent confidence intervals (CI) 1.07-1.44). The mean pre-treatment cholesterol was 6.49 mmol/l and the mean post-treatment cholesterol 5.80 mmol/l (difference 0.69 mmol/l, 95 per cent CI 0.55-0.84 mmol/l).

Conclusions Systematic searches of computerized and paper medical records can identify subgroups of patients who will benefit from continuing follow-up in primary care. The results of this study suggest that ischaemic heart disease remains an area where there is scope to improve the management of patients in primary care. Considerable effort will be required from the members of the primary health care team to achieve this objective, particularly in the areas of computerized data collection and in the identification and recall of patients.

Keywords: primary care, ischaemic heart disease, cholesterol, statins, clinical data recording