Cognitive Reflection and Antibiotic Prescribing for Acute Respiratory Infections

Published in: Family Practice, 2016

Posted on RAND.org on April 22, 2016

by Dwan B. Pineros, Jason N. Doctor, Mark W. Friedberg, Daniella Meeker, Jeffrey A. Linder

Read More

Access further information on this document at Family Practice

This article was published outside of RAND. The full text of the article can be found at the link above.

Research Question

  1. Are more reflective clinicians less likely to prescribe antibiotics for acute respiratory infections?

BACKGROUND: Variation in clinical decision-making could be explained by clinicians' tendency to make 'snap-decisions' versus making more reflective decisions. One common clinical decision with unexplained variation is the prescription of antibiotics for acute respiratory infections (ARIs). OBJECTIVE: We hypothesized that clinicians who tended toward greater cognitive reflection would be less likely to prescribe antibiotics for ARIs. METHODS: The Cognitive Reflection Test (CRT) is a psychological test with three questions with intuitive but incorrect answers that respondents reach if they do not consider the question carefully. The CRT is scored from 0 to 3, representing the number of correct answers. A higher score indicates greater cognitive reflection. We administered the CRT to 187 clinicians in 50 primary care practices. From billing and electronic health record data, we calculated clinician-level antibiotic prescribing rates for ARIs in 3 categories: all ARIs, antibiotic-appropriate ARIs and non-antibiotic-appropriate ARIs. RESULTS: A total of 57 clinicians (31%) scored 0 points on the CRT; 38 (20%) scored 1; 51 (27%) scored 2; and 41 (22%) scored 3. We found a roughly U-shaped association between cognitive reflection and antibiotic prescribing. The antibiotic prescribing rate for CRT scores of 0, 1, 2 and 3 for all ARIs (n = 37080 visits) was 32%, 26%, 25% and 30% (P = 0.10); for antibiotic-appropriate ARIs (n = 11220 visits) was 60%, 55%, 54% and 58% (P = 0.63); and for non-antibiotic-appropriate ARIs (n = 25860 visits) was 21%, 17%, 13% and 18%, respectively (P = 0.03). CONCLUSIONS: In contrast to our hypothesis, there appears to be a 'sweet-spot' of cognitive reflection for antibiotic prescribing for non-antibiotic-appropriate ARIs. Differences in clinicians' cognitive reflection may be associated with other variations in care.

Key Findings

  • Clinicians who demonstrated less cognitive reflection did not have higher inappropriate prescribing rates.
  • For some clinical decisions, there may be a 'sweet-spot' in which the benefits of intuitive versus reflective clinical decisonmaking are in balance.
  • Differences in clinicians' level of reflection may be associated with other variations in care.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation external publication series. Many RAND studies are published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, as chapters in commercial books, or as documents published by other organizations.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.