Overcoming Decisional Gaps in High-Risk Prescribing by Junior Physicians Using Simulation-Based Training: Protocol for a Randomized Controlled Trial

JMIR Res Protoc. 2022 Apr 27;11(4):e31464. doi: 10.2196/31464.


Background: Gaps between rational thought and actual decisions are increasingly recognized as a reason why people make suboptimal choices in states of heightened emotion, such as stress. These observations may help explain why high-risk medications continue to be prescribed to acutely ill hospitalized older adults despite widely accepted recommendations against these practices. Role playing and other efforts, such as simulation training, have demonstrated benefits to help people avoid decisional gaps but have not been tested to reduce overprescribing of high-risk medications.

Objective: This study aims to evaluate the impact of a simulation-based training program designed to address decisional gaps on prescribing of high-risk medications compared with control.

Methods: In this 2-arm pragmatic trial, we are randomizing at least 36 first-year medical resident physicians (ie, interns) who provide care on inpatient general medicine services at a large academic medical center to either intervention (simulation-based training) or control (online educational training). The intervention comprises a 40-minute immersive individual simulation training consisting of a reality-based patient care scenario in a simulated environment at the beginning of their inpatient service rotation. The simulation focuses on 3 types of high-risk medications, including benzodiazepines, antipsychotics, and sedative hypnotics (Z-drugs), in older adults, and is specifically designed to help the physicians identify their reactions and prescribing decisions in stressful situations that are common in the inpatient setting. The simulation scenario is followed by a semistructured debriefing with an expert facilitator. The trial's primary outcome is the number of medication doses for any of the high-risk medications prescribed by the interns to patients aged 65 years or older who were not taking one of the medications upon admission. Secondary outcomes include prescribing by all providers on the care team, being discharged on 1 of the medications, and prescribing of related medications (eg, melatonin, trazodone), or the medications of interest for the control intervention. These outcomes will be measured using electronic health record data.

Results: Recruitment of interns began on March 29, 2021. Recruitment for the trial ended in Q42021, with follow-up completed by Q12022.

Conclusions: This trial will evaluate the impact of a simulation-based training program designed using behavioral science principles on prescribing of high-risk medications by junior physicians. If the intervention is shown to be effective, this approach could potentially be reproducible by others and for a broader set of behaviors.

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT04668248; https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT04668248.

International registered report identifier (irrid): PRR1-10.2196/31464.

Keywords: antipsychotics; behavioral science; benzodiazepines; impact evaluation; pragmatic trial; prescribing.

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT04668248