One size does not fit all: questions to answer before intervening to change physician behavior

Jt Comm J Qual Improv. 1999 Sep;25(9):486-95. doi: 10.1016/s1070-3241(16)30463-1.


Background: Many interventions have been conducted to change physician behavior, but there is not much evidence regarding their effectiveness. A list of questions is proposed for those who would attempt such interventions: 1. Does the behavior (or decision making) need to be changed? This implies the next two questions. 1a. Is there a logical, evidence-based argument that one decision alternative is preferable for a particular situation? If the would-be behavior changer cannot make an evidence-based argument for changing behavior, there is little moral authority to intervene. 1b. Is there evidence that physicians are not choosing this decision alternative when they should? Interventions are often prompted by evidence that utilization of an alternative was too high or low, but physicians' decisions are not the only determinants of utilization. 2. What is the problem with the decision making? Common sense suggests that different problems require different solutions. Yet interventions are often pursued in the absence of clear information about the reasons physicians did not exhibit the preferred behavior. 3. How could the decision making best be changed? Finding the cognitive problems that caused "wrong" behavior should directly lead to the design of simple, targeted, effective interventions to change this behavior. The judgment and decision making psychology literature suggests that general instruction in reasoning and probability may improve judgments and decision processes.

Summary: Physicians' behavior appears to be resistant to change. Understanding why the behavior should be changed and what caused it may make the process of designing interventions more complicated. The resulting interventions, however, are more likely to be simple and successful.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Competence / standards
  • Decision Making*
  • Decision Support Techniques
  • Education, Medical, Continuing
  • Evidence-Based Medicine / organization & administration*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Judgment
  • Logic
  • Needs Assessment
  • Organizational Innovation
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Patient Selection*
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic*
  • Prejudice