• The project team is drawing on behavioural insights to design a range of approaches for encouraging GPs and practice managers to engage with the prescriptions data available on the OpenPrescribing website. They will test methods including peer comparison tools, cost savings calculators, feedback on prescribing behaviour and email alerts, to establish which have the greatest impact on prescribing behaviour.
  • Led by the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine at the University of Oxford.
  • Completion date: Summer 2018.

The cost of drugs prescribed by the NHS in England comes to more than £12 billion a year. Research suggests that up to £1 billion could be saved by making prescribing more efficient, for example by avoiding the use of expensive branded drugs when there are identical or equally effective generic versions available.

The OpenPrescribing team has developed an open access website which makes it easy for anyone to examine the data that the Health and Social Care Information Centre publishes each month on the drugs prescribed by GPs in England. Doctors and practice managers can view dashboards that show how their prescribing behaviour compares to the national and regional average, and identify areas for improvement. The site also helps prescribing managers, commissioners and others in the NHS to monitor prescribing performance.

The team believes that the website could hold the key to reducing wasteful prescribing, as long as people use it. Drawing on insights from behavioural science, they are designing new website features and email communications to encourage users to engage with and act upon the data. The team will run a series of randomised controlled trials to determine which methods and approaches have the greatest impact on prescribing behaviour, and use their findings to plan a wider rollout of the optimal methods of engagement.

Features being tested include a cost savings calculator and email alerts triggered by changes in prescribing behaviour. Tests will also examine the effect of the wording, frequency of emails and the content of pages presented to individual visitors.

Contact details

For more information, contact Darshan Patel, Behavioural Insights Research Programme manager at the Health Foundation, or Dr Ben Goldacre, Senior Clinical Research Fellow at the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine, University of Oxford.

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