Physician Perceptions of Step Therapy Prescribing Requirements

J Manag Care Spec Pharm. 2019 Nov;25(11):1210-1224. doi: 10.18553/jmcp.2019.25.11.1210.


Background: Step therapy policies that require prescribers to follow an ordered protocol for drug choices are widely used by public and private insurers to manage medication costs; however, the perceptions of prescribing physicians regarding these policies have not been studied.

Objective: To determine physician attitudes toward step therapy policies and the correlation of these beliefs with physician characteristics.

Methods: A sample of clinically active physicians specializing in internal medicine, cardiology, or endocrinology received a survey administered online or via mail. Five-point Likert scale questions assessed physicians' opinions of clinical, economic, and implementation elements of prior authorization policies; physician demographic characteristics; and the extent of their interactions with the pharmaceutical industry.

Results: 686 physicians (48%) responded to the survey, which was evenly divided among primary care physicians, endocrinologists, and cardiologists. Many respondents (70%) had interactions with industry, including receipt of meals or gifts and use of medication samples. Physicians reported that step therapy policies could improve the affordability of medication use (55% agree vs. 26% disagree) and its clinical appropriateness (59% agree vs. 19% disagree). By similar margins, however, physicians stated that step therapy policies were implemented inefficiently and inflexibly and often did not incorporate relevant patient-specific information. Physicians in subspecialties, especially endocrinology, and those who had interactions with the pharmaceutical industry were more likely to hold negative views of step therapy policies.

Conclusions: Most physicians recognize the potential of step therapy to improve the quality and cost-effectiveness of prescribing, although interactions with industry may affect these opinions. Physician perception of ineffective implementation of these policies, however, undermines their acceptability.

Disclosures: The American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) funded the survey used in this study. The ABIM had no role in the design and conduct of the study or development and preparation of the manuscript. Survey honoraria was provided by the Consumers Union. Kesselheim and Avorn's work is funded by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. Kesselheim is also supported by the Harvard-MIT Center for Regulatory Science, Arnold Ventures, and the Engelberg Foundation. Ross is employed by the ABIM. Fischer, Lu, and Tessema have nothing to disclose.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cost Savings / economics
  • Cost Savings / standards
  • Costs and Cost Analysis / standards*
  • Drug Costs / standards*
  • Drug Costs / statistics & numerical data
  • Drug Prescriptions / standards*
  • Drug Prescriptions / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internal Medicine / economics
  • Internal Medicine / organization & administration
  • Internal Medicine / standards
  • Internal Medicine / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physicians / statistics & numerical data
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / economics
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / organization & administration
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / standards*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data
  • Prescription Drugs / economics*
  • Quality Improvement
  • Surveys and Questionnaires / statistics & numerical data
  • United States


  • Prescription Drugs