Opioid Prescribing Practices Project - Key Outcomes

This report outlines the findings of a randomised controlled trial (RCT) conducted by the Department of Health. The RCT explored whether a letter designed with behavioural insights principles would help GPs reflect on their opioid prescribing.


Opioid Prescribing Practices Project - Key Outcomes

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GPs are important partners in our efforts to minimise harm from the misuse of opioids. We want to help GPs limit their opioid prescribing to situations where clinical evidence proves their value.  

In June 2018, the then Chief Medical Officer wrote to approximately 4,800 GPs whose prescribing rates of opioids was in the top 20%. Their prescribing rate over the following 12 months was then compared with a control group of 1,178 similarly high prescribers of opioids, who did not receive the letter.

The letter used percentiles to show GPs how their prescribing rate compared to their peers in either urban or regional and rural areas.

The intent of the letter was to encourage GPs to reflect on their prescribing behaviour. It also encouraged GPs to look for opportunities to reduce their prescribing, where safe and clinically indicated.

The letters themselves did not indicate that letter-recipients were engaging in inappropriate prescribing. They simply showed how their prescribing rate compared to their peers. The letters also noted that a GPs prescribing may be appropriate for their patient group.

By the end of the project, there was a 4% decrease in prescribing for the treatment group compared to the control group. This project has shown the effectiveness of a letter incorporating behavioural insight principles in reducing prescribing of opioids by GPs.


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