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© 2019 Coyle et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. Background Hypertension is a major cause of preventable disability and death globally and affects more than one in four adults in England. Unwarranted variation is variation in access, quality, outcome or value which is unexplained by differences in the condition or patient characteristics and which reduces quality and efficiency. Distinguishing unwarranted from variation due to clinical, organisational or patient factors can be challenging. We carried out this study to explore inter-practice variation in the diagnosis and management of hypertension in the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) Research and Surveillance Centre (RSC) network database, a large, representative surveillance database. Methods and finding We carried out a cross-sectional study using primary care data extracted from the electronic health records of 1,271,419 adults registered at RCGP RSC general practices on 31 st December 2016. Logistic regression was used to indirectly standardise practice-level hypertension prevalence and control against the RCGP RSC population, adjusted for age, gender, ethnicity, deprivation, co-morbidity, NHS region and practice size. Inter-practice variation was demonstrated using funnel plots with 95% and 99.8% control limits. The prevalence of detected hypertension was 18.4% (95% CI 18.4–18.5), n = 234,165. Uncontrolled hypertension was present in 146,553 of 196,052 individuals, 25.2% (25.1–25.4), in whom blood pressure had been recorded in the previous year. Hypertension management varied markedly between practices with a three-fold difference in prevalence, 13.5–38.4%, and a four-fold difference in the proportion of uncontrolled hypertension, 11.8–47.9%. Despite adjustment for sociodemographic and practice characteristics funnel plots demonstrated marked over-dispersion. Conclusions Substantial variation in the prevalence of diagnosed hypertension and the management of hypertension was only partially explained by characteristics captured within a routine dataset. The over-dispersion suggests variation is not fully explained by these factors and that context, behaviour and processes of care delivery may contribute to variation. Routine data sources in isolation to not provide sufficient contextual data to diagnose the causes of variation.

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