Randomised trial of general practitioner online education for prescribing and test ordering
BMJ Open Quality
Introduction Potentially inappropriate medicine prescriptions and low-value diagnostic testing pose risks to patient safety and increases in health system costs. The aim of the Clinical and Healthcare Improvement through My Health Record usage and Education in General Practice study was to evaluate a scalable online quality improvement intervention, integrating online education regarding a national shared electronic health record and rational prescribing, pathology and imaging ordering by Australian general practitioners (GPs). Methods The study was a parallel three-arm randomised trial comprising a prescribing education arm, a pathology education arm and an imaging education arm. Currently practising GPs in Australia were eligible to participate and randomised on a 1:1:1 basis to the study arms after consenting. The response to the intervention in reducing potentially unnecessary medicine prescriptions and tests in each arm was assessed using the other two arms as controls. The primary outcome was the cost per 100 consultations of predefined medication prescriptions, pathology and radiology test ordering 6 months following the intervention, compared with 6 months prior. Outcomes were assessed on intention-to-treat and post hoc per-protocol bases using multilevel regression models, with the analysts blinded to allocation. Results In total, 106 GPs were enrolled and randomised (prescribing n=35, pathology n=36, imaging n=35). Data were available for 97 GPs at the end of trial (prescribing n=33, pathology n=32, imaging n=32) with 44 fully completing the intervention. In intention-to-treat analysis, there were no significant differences in the rates of change in costs across the three arms. Per protocol, there was a statistically significant difference in the rate of change in pathology costs (p=0.03). In the pathology arm, the rate of increase in pathology costs was significantly lower by $A187 (95% CI -$A340, -$A33) than the prescribing arm, and non-significantly $A9 (95% CI -$A128, $A110) lower than the imaging arm. Discussion This study provides some evidence for reductions in costs for low-value pathology test ordering in those that completed the relevant online education. The study experienced slow uptake and low completion of the education intervention during the COVID-19 pandemic. Changes were not significant for the primary endpoint, which included all participants. Improving completion rates and combining real-time feedback on prescribing or test ordering may increase the overall effectiveness of the intervention. Given the purely online delivery of the education, there is scope for upscaling the intervention, which may provide cost-effectiveness benefits. Trial registration number ACTRN12620000010998.
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