Nudging Docs with Threatening Letters

Seroquel tablets. Credit: AstraZeneca, via Associated Press

I recently spoke with Margot Sanger-Katz at the New York Times. She’s an awesome healthcare reporter. She wrote a nice piece on some recent nudging research. Here’s the beginning of the article to whet your appetite:

The letters doctors received from the county medical examiner included a shocking fact: A patient you once prescribed an opioid medication has died in the last year from a drug overdose.

Faced with this statistic and others on annual county prescription drug deaths from the medical examiner, doctors reduced their prescribing of opioids by just under 10 percent, compared with doctors who didn’t get a letter.

Another letter warned primary care doctors that the federal government had flagged them for prescribing too many antipsychotic medications to patients who could be harmed by the drugs. Among those doctors, prescriptions fell by more than 15 percent over two years.

Both letters represented a new experiment in how to use low-cost, behavioral cues to shift medical practices. Instead of offering new training, or taking away insurance coverage, or doing one of the many expensive, complicated things that might change medical practice, researchers have been exploring the power of subtler nudges.

Check out the whole piece!