General practitioners' risk literacy and real-world prescribing of potentially hazardous drugs: a cross-sectional study

Odette Wegwarth, Tammy C Hoffmann, Ben Goldacre, Claudia Spies, Helge A Giese

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


BACKGROUND: Overuse of medical care is a pervasive problem. Studies using hypothetical scenarios suggest that physicians' risk literacy influences medical decisions; real-world correlations, however, are lacking. We sought to determine the association between physicians' risk literacy and their real-world prescriptions of potentially hazardous drugs, accounting for conflicts of interest and perceptions of benefit-harm ratios in low-value prescribing scenarios.

SETTING AND SAMPLE: Cross-sectional study-conducted online between June and October 2023 via field panels of Sermo (Hamburg, Germany)-with a convenience sample of 304 English general practitioners (GPs).

METHODS: GPs' survey responses on their treatment-related risk literacy, conflicts of interest and perceptions of the benefit-harm ratio in low-value prescribing scenarios were matched to their UK National Health Service records of prescribing volumes for antibiotics, opioids, gabapentin and benzodiazepines and analysed for differences.

RESULTS: 204 GPs (67.1%) worked in practices with ≥6 practising GPs and 226 (76.0%) reported 10-39 years of experience. Compared with GPs demonstrating low risk literacy, GPs with high literacy prescribed fewer opioids (mean (M ): 60.60 vs 43.88 prescribed volumes/1000 patients/6 months, p=0.016), less gabapentin (M: 23.84 vs 18.34 prescribed volumes/1000 patients/6 months, p=0.023), and fewer benzodiazepines (M: 17.23 vs 13.58 prescribed volumes/1000 patients/6 months, p=0.037), but comparable volumes of antibiotics (M: 48.84 vs 40.61 prescribed volumes/1000 patients/6 months, p=0.076). High-risk literacy was associated with lower conflicts of interest (ϕ = 0.12, p=0.031) and higher perception of harms outweighing benefits in low-value prescribing scenarios (p=0.007). Conflicts of interest and benefit-harm perceptions were not independently associated with prescribing behaviour (all ps >0.05).

CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE: The observed association between GPs with higher risk literacy and the prescription of fewer hazardous drugs suggests the importance of risk literacy in enhancing patient safety and quality of care.

Original languageEnglish
Article number016979
JournalQuality in Health Care
Early online date17 Apr 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 17 Apr 2024


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