Background: The introduction of biological drugs involved a fundamental change in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The extent to which biological drugs are prescribed to RA patients in different regions in Sweden varies greatly. Previous research has indicated that differences in health care practice at the regional level might obscure differences at the individual level. The objective of this study is to explore what influences individual rheumatologists' decisions when prescribing biological drugs.
Method: Semi-structured interviews, utilizing closed- and open-ended questions, were conducted with senior rheumatologists, selected through a mix of random and purposive sampling. The interview questions consisted of two parts, with a "parallel mixed method" approach. In the first and main part, open-ended exploratory questions were posed about factors influencing prescription. In the second part, the rheumatologists were asked to rate predefined factors that might influence their prescription decisions. The Consolidated Framework for Implementation Research (CFIR) was used as a conceptual framework for data collection and analysis.
Results: Twenty-six rheumatologists were interviewed. A constellation of various factors and their interaction influenced rheumatologists' prescribing decisions, including the individual rheumatologist's experiences and perceptions of the evidence, the structure of the department including responsibility for costs, peer pressure, political and administrative influences, and participation in clinical trials. The patient as an actor emerged as an important factor. Hence, factors both at organizational and individual levels influenced the prescribing of biological drugs. The factors should not be seen as individual influences but were described as influencing prescription in an interactive, nonlinear way.
Conclusions: Potential factors explaining differences in prescription practice are experience and perception of the evidence on the individual level and the structure of the department and participation in clinical trials on the organizational level. The influence of patient attitudes and preferences and interpretation of scientific evidence seemed to be somewhat contradictory in the qualitative responses as compared to the quantitative rating, and this needs further exploration. An implication of the present study is that in addition to scientific knowledge, attempts to influence prescription behavior need to be multifactorial and account for interactions of factors between different actors.