The protocol of the Application of Economics & Social psychology to improve Opioid Prescribing Safety Trial 1 (AESOPS-1): Electronic health record nudges

Contemp Clin Trials. 2021 Apr:103:106329. doi: 10.1016/j.cct.2021.106329. Epub 2021 Feb 24.


Background: There is a lack of evidence that long-term opioid use offers benefit for noncancer pain and an abundance of evidence of harm. Despite clinical guidelines and education, prescribing continues at a higher rate than before the opioids crisis. The objective of trial 1 of the Application of Economics & Social psychology to improve Opioid Prescribing Safety (AESOPS-1) is to discourage unnecessary opioid prescribing in primary care by applying "behavioral insights"-empirically-tested social and psychological interventions that affect choice.

Methods: AESOPS-1 randomizes primary care clinics in Illinois and California to behavioral intervention or control. Both arms receive opioid guideline education. Clinics randomized to the behavioral intervention arm receive nudges within the electronic health record (EHR) including: 1) an "accountable justification" entered in the chart, 2) a precommitment to address high-risk prescriptions, and 3) a "PainTracker" that broadens discussions about pain. The control arm receives no EHR-based intervention. The primary outcome is the change in weekly milligram morphine equivalents (MME) prescribed. The secondary outcome is the change in the proportion of patients prescribed at least 50 daily MME. To evaluate these outcomes, we will use a difference-in-differences mixed-effects regression model on clinician MME weekly or daily dose. The analysis will be "intent-to-treat." The intervention period is 18-months, with a 6-month follow-up period to measure persistence of effects.

Discussion: The AESOPS-1 trial will evaluate the effect of EHR-based interventions in reducing noncancer opioid prescribing in primary care. AESOPS-1 may demonstrate practical and scalable strategies to lower unnecessary population exposure to opioids.

Keywords: Behavioral economics; Nudges; Opioid use disorder; Randomized controlled trial.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial Protocol
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid* / adverse effects
  • Electronic Health Records
  • Humans
  • Opioid-Related Disorders* / drug therapy
  • Opioid-Related Disorders* / prevention & control
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'
  • Psychology, Social
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic


  • Analgesics, Opioid