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Implement Sci. 2007 Jun 7;2:18.

Do physician outcome judgments and judgment biases contribute to inappropriate use of treatments? Study protocol.

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1
Ottawa Health Research Institute, Ottawa Hospital, Civic Campus, 1053 Carling Avenue, Ottawa, Ontario, K1Y 4E9, Canada. jbrehaut@ohri.ca

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

There are many examples of physicians using treatments inappropriately, despite clear evidence about the circumstances under which the benefits of such treatments outweigh their harms. When such over- or under- use of treatments occurs for common diseases, the burden to the healthcare system and risks to patients can be substantial. We propose that a major contributor to inappropriate treatment may be how clinicians judge the likelihood of important treatment outcomes, and how these judgments influence their treatment decisions. The current study will examine the role of judged outcome probabilities and other cognitive factors in the context of two clinical treatment decisions: 1) prescription of antibiotics for sore throat, where we hypothesize overestimation of benefit and underestimation of harm leads to over-prescription of antibiotics; and 2) initiation of anticoagulation for patients with atrial fibrillation (AF), where we hypothesize that underestimation of benefit and overestimation of harm leads to under-prescription of warfarin.

METHODS:

For each of the two conditions, we will administer surveys of two types (Type 1 and Type 2) to different samples of Canadian physicians. The primary goal of the Type 1 survey is to assess physicians' perceived outcome probabilities (both good and bad outcomes) for the target treatment. Type 1 surveys will assess judged outcome probabilities in the context of a representative patient, and include questions about how physicians currently treat such cases, the recollection of rare or vivid outcomes, as well as practice and demographic details. The primary goal of the Type 2 surveys is to measure the specific factors that drive individual clinical judgments and treatment decisions, using a 'clinical judgment analysis' or 'lens modeling' approach. This survey will manipulate eight clinical variables across a series of sixteen realistic case vignettes. Based on the survey responses, we will be able to identify which variables have the greatest effect on physician judgments, and whether judgments are affected by inappropriate cues or incorrect weighting of appropriate cues. We will send antibiotics surveys to family physicians (300 per survey), and warfarin surveys to both family physicians and internal medicine specialists (300 per group per survey), for a total of 1,800 physicians. Each Type 1 survey will be two to four pages in length and take about fifteen minutes to complete, while each Type 2 survey will be eight to ten pages in length and take about thirty minutes to complete.

DISCUSSION:

This work will provide insight into the extent to which clinicians' judgments about the likelihood of important treatment outcomes explain inappropriate treatment decisions. This work will also provide information necessary for the development of an individualized feedback tool designed to improve treatment decisions. The techniques developed here have the potential to be applicable to a wide range of clinical areas where inappropriate utilization stems from biased judgments.

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