Physician Prescribing Behavior and Its Impact on Patient-Level Outcomes

Published in: The American Journal of Managed Care, v. 17, no. 12, Dec. 2011, p. e462-e471

Posted on RAND.org on December 01, 2011

by Geoffrey F. Joyce, Mariana Carrera, Dana P. Goldman, Neeraj Sood

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OBJECTIVES: Concerns over rising drug costs, pharmaceutical advertising, and potential conflicts of interest have focused attention on physician prescribing behavior. We examine how broadly physicians prescribe within the 10 most prevalent therapeutic classes, the factors affecting their choices, and the impact of their prescribing behavior on patient-level outcomes. STUDY DESIGN: Retrospective study from 2005 to 2007 examining prescribers with at least 5 initial prescriptions within a class from 2005 to 2007. Medical and pharmacy claims are linked to prescriber information from 146 different health plans, reflecting 1975 to 8923 unique providers per drug class. METHODS: Primary outcomes are the number of distinct drugs in a class initially prescribed by a physician over 1- and 3-year periods, medication possession ratio, and out-of-pocket costs. RESULTS: In 8 of 10 therapeutic classes, the median physician prescribes at least 3 different drugs and fewer than 1 in 6 physicians prescribe only brand drugs. Physicians prescribing only 1 or 2 drugs in a class are more likely to prescribe the most advertised drug. Physicians who prescribe fewer drugs are less likely to see patients with other comorbid conditions and varied formulary designs. Prescribing fewer drugs is associated with lower rates of medication adherence and higher out-of pocket costs for drugs, but the effects are small and inconsistent across classes. CONCLUSIONS: Physicians prescribe more broadly than commonly perceived. Though narrow prescribers are more likely to prescribe highly advertised drugs, few physicians prescribe these drugs exclusively. Narrow prescribing has modest effects on medication adherence and out-of-pocket costs in some classes.

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