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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Diabetes screening with hemoglobin A1c prior to a change in guideline recommendations: prevalence and patient characteristics

Michelle Greiver1*, Babak Aliarzadeh2, Rahim Moineddin345, Christopher Meaney6 and Noah Ivers78

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Family and Community Medicine, University of Toronto, 500 University Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, M5G 1V7, Canada

2 North Toronto Research Network, 240 Duncan Mill Road, Suite 705 Toronto, Ontario, M3B 3S6, Canada

3 Department of Family and Community Medicine, University of Toronto, 500 University Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, M5G 1V7 Canada

4 Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences, 2075 Bayview Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, M4N 3M5, Canada

5 Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, 155 College Street, Toronto, Ontario, M5T 3M7, Canada

6 Research Program, Department of Family and Community Medicine, University of Toronto, 500 University Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, M5G 1V7, Canada

7 Women's College Hospital, 76 Grenville Street, Toronto Ontario, M5S 1B2, Canada

8 Clinical Epidemiology, Department of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation, University of Toronto, 155 College Street, Suite 425, Toronto, Ontario, M5T 3M6, Canada

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BMC Family Practice 2011, 12:91  doi:10.1186/1471-2296-12-91

Published: 24 August 2011



In January 2010, the American Diabetes Association recommended the use of hemoglobin A1c (Hgb A1c) to screen and diagnose diabetes. This study explored the prevalence and clinical context of Hgb A1c tests done for non-diabetic primary care patients for the three years prior to the release of the new guidelines. We sought to determine the provision of tests in non-diabetic patients age 19 or over, patients age 45 and over (eligible for routine diabetes screening), the annual change in the rate of this screening test, and the patient characteristics associated with the provision of Hgb A1c screening.


We conducted a retrospective study using data routinely collected in Electronic Medical Records. The participants were thirteen community-based family physicians in Toronto, Ontario. We calculated the proportion of non diabetic patients who had at least one Hbg A1c done in three years. We used logistic generalized estimating equation with year treated as a continuous variable to test for a non-zero slope in yearly Hbg A1c provision. We modelled screening using multivariable logistic regression.


There were 11,792 non-diabetic adults. Of these, 1,678 (14.2%; 95%CI 13.6%-14.9%) had at least one Hgb A1c test done; this was higher for patients 45 years of age or older (20.2%; 95% CI 19.3% - 21.2%). The proportion of non-diabetic patients with an A1c test increased from 5.2% in 2007 to 8.8% in 2009 (p < 0.0001 for presence of slope). Factors associated with significantly greater adjusted odds ratios of having the test done included increasing diastolic blood pressure, increasing fasting glucose, increasing body mass index, increasing age, as well as male gender and presence of hypertension, but not smoking status or LDL cholesterol. Patients living in the highest income quintile neighbourhoods had significantly lower odds ratios of having this test done than those in the lowest quintile (p < 0.001).


A large and increasing proportion of the non-diabetic patients we studied have had an Hgb A1c for screening prior to guidelines recommending the test for this purpose. Several risk factors for cardiovascular disease or diabetes were associated with the provision of the Hgb A1c. Early uptake of the test may represent appropriate utilization.