‘If no-one stops me, I'll make the mistake again’: Changing prescribing behaviours through feedback; A Perceptual Control Theory perspective’

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Doctors at all levels make prescribing errors which can prolong patients' hospital stay, increase the risk of death, and place a significant financial burden on the health system. Doctors have previously reported receiving little or no feedback on their prescribing errors. The effectiveness of feedback in modifying future practice varies widely, depending on how feedback is delivered. To date there is little evidence about why and how feedback interventions do or do not work. Behavioural theories can be used to evaluate this process and provide explanatory accounts to inform recommendations for future interventions.


To explore the experiences of prescribers receiving different methods of feedback about their prescribing errors. Perceptual Control Theory (PCT) was used as a theoretical framework to explain which aspects of feedback were most likely to influence prescribing behaviour.


A secondary analysis of 31 semi-structured qualitative interviews with junior doctors who had taken part one of three studies in which they received feedback on their prescribing errors. A hybrid approach to analysis involved inductive thematic analysis, and deductive a priori template of codes using PCT as a framework to guide data analysis and interpretation.


Feedback was most useful for learning and most likely to influence future prescribing behaviour when it was timely, and provided a comprehensive, contextualised benchmark to which participants could compare their prescribing behaviours and current level of knowledge. Group discussions and completing directly-observed prescribing event forms were thought most likely to impact future prescribing; email feedback alone was perceived as least effective in changing prescribing behaviour.


Feedback has the potential to change future prescribing behaviour. Behaviour change can only take place if prescribers are made aware of these discrepancies, either via providing appropriate reference values or benchmarks before mistakes are made, or by providing timely and comprehensive feedback after mistakes are made.

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