Influence of data disclosures on physician decisions about off-label uses: findings from a qualitative study

BMC Prim Care. 2022 Apr 19;23(1):87. doi: 10.1186/s12875-022-01666-2.


Background: Prescribing approved products for unapproved uses (off-label use) is not uncommon among physicians in certain medical specialties. Available evidence about an off-label use - both supportive and unsupportive - can influence prescribers' decisions about a drug's appropriateness for a particular case. The objectives of this study were: (1) to examine physician perceptions about off-label uses generally, including their awareness of unsupportive data; and (2) to explore the influence of disclosure information about unsupportive data on off-label prescribing decisions.

Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted between December 2019 and January 2020 with oncologists (n = 35) and primary care physicians (n = 35). Interviews explored general prescribing practices, understanding of and information sources for learning about off-label use of prescription drugs, awareness of unsupportive data related to off-label uses, and preferences and reactions to disclosure statements about the existence of unsupportive data related to an off-label use.

Results: Most participants reported prescribing drugs for off-label uses (with half reporting regular off-label prescribing). However, among those who prescribe off-label, approximately two-thirds had never seen unsupportive data about off-label uses. Physicians preferred a disclosure statement that provided a summary of the unsupportive data about the off-label use; this statement also led most physicians to say they were unlikely or less likely to prescribe the drug for that use.

Conclusions: This study suggests that physicians' decision-making about prescribing for off-label uses of approved drugs may be influenced by awareness of unsupportive data. Our interviews also suggest that providing more information about unsupportive study findings may result in a reduction in reported prescribing likelihood.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Disclosure
  • Humans
  • Off-Label Use*
  • Physicians*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'
  • Qualitative Research