Background: Psychological theories of behaviour may provide a framework to guide the design of interventions to change professional behaviour. Behaviour change interventions, designed using psychological theory and targeting important motivational beliefs, were experimentally evaluated for effects on the behavioural intention and simulated behaviour of GPs in the management of uncomplicated upper respiratory tract infection (URTI).
Methods: The design was a 2 x 2 factorial randomised controlled trial. A postal questionnaire was developed based on three theories of human behaviour: Theory of Planned Behaviour; Social Cognitive Theory and Operant Learning Theory. The beliefs and attitudes of GPs regarding the management of URTI without antibiotics and rates of prescribing on eight patient scenarios were measured at baseline and post-intervention. Two theory-based interventions, a "graded task" with "action planning" and a "persuasive communication", were incorporated into the post-intervention questionnaire. Trial groups were compared using co-variate analyses.
Results: Post-intervention questionnaires were returned for 340/397 (86%) GPs who responded to the baseline survey. Each intervention had a significant effect on its targeted behavioural belief: compared to those not receiving the intervention GPs completing Intervention 1 reported stronger self-efficacy scores (Beta = 1.41, 95% CI: 0.64 to 2.25) and GPs completing Intervention 2 had more positive anticipated consequences scores (Beta = 0.98, 95% CI = 0.46 to 1.98). Intervention 2 had a significant effect on intention (Beta = 0.90, 95% CI = 0.41 to 1.38) and simulated behaviour (Beta = 0.47, 95% CI = 0.19 to 0.74).
Conclusion: GPs' intended management of URTI was significantly influenced by their confidence in their ability to manage URTI without antibiotics and the consequences they anticipated as a result of doing so. Two targeted behaviour change interventions differentially affected these beliefs. One intervention also significantly enhanced GPs' intentions not to prescribe antibiotics for URTI and resulted in lower rates of prescribing on patient scenarios compared to a control group. The theoretical frameworks utilised provide a scientific rationale for understanding how and why the interventions had these effects, improving the reproducibility and generalisability of these findings and offering a sound basis for an intervention in a "real world" trial.
Trial registration: Clinicaltrials.gov NCT00376142.