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Med Care. 2014 Apr;52(4):294-9. doi: 10.1097/MLR.0000000000000096.

Effects of patient medication requests on physician prescribing behavior: results of a factorial experiment.

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*New England Research Institutes (NERI), Watertown †Division of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital ‡Orthopedic and Arthritis Center for Outcomes Research, Department of Orthopedic Surgery and Division of Rheumatology, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School §Department of Epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health ∥Division of Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacoeconomics, Brigham & Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA.



Because of internet searches, advice from friends, and pharmaceutical advertising, especially direct-to-consumer advertising, patients are increasingly activated to request medications during a physician encounter.


To estimate the effect of patient requests for medications on physician-prescribing behavior, unconfounded by patient, physician, and practice-setting factors.


Two experiments were conducted among 192 primary care physicians, each using different video-based scenarios: an undiagnosed "patient" with symptoms strongly suggesting sciatica, and a "patient" with already diagnosed chronic knee osteoarthritis. Half of patients with sciatica symptoms requested oxycodone, whereas the other half requested something to help with pain. Similarly, half of knee osteoarthritis patients specifically requested celebrex and half requested something to help with pain.


To increase generalizability and ensure sufficient numbers were available, we recruited 192 primary care physicians from 6 US states.


The primary outcome was whether physicians would accede to a patient's request for a medication. Alternative pain medications prescribed were secondary outcomes.


19.8% of sciatica patients requesting oxycodone would receive a prescription for oxycodone, compared with 1% of those making no specific request (P = 0.001). Fifty-three percent of knee osteoarthritis patients requesting celebrex would receive it, compared with 24% of patients making no request (P = 0.001). Patients requesting oxycodone were more likely to receive a strong narcotic (P = 0.001) and less likely to receive a weak narcotic (P = 0.01). Patients requesting celebrex were much less likely to receive a nonselective nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (P = 0.008). No patient attributes, physician, or organizational factors influenced a physician's willingness to accede to a patient's medication request.


In both scenarios, activated patient requests for a medication substantially affected physician-prescribing decisions, despite the drawbacks of the requested medications.

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