Physicians less likely to adhere to drug guidelines: Study

On the surface, one might expect physicians to follow prescription drug guidelines more closely than the general public. A new study suggests the opposite. 

The findings, published in the December edition of the American Economic Association, are based on researchers' analysis of how well people in Sweden adhered to the guidelines for 63 prescription drugs. It involved 5.9 million people, of which more than 149,000 were physicians or close family members of physicians. Researchers used national data on prescription drug  purchases, hospital visits and diagnoses to examine medication guideline adherence patterns between 2005 and 2016. 

Overall, the study found a baseline medication adherence rate of about 54 percent. Among physicians and their families, the rate was about 4 percentage points lower. The difference in adherence to guidelines was largest with antibiotics, with compliance among physicians and their families lagging 5.2 percentage points behind others. 

"What we found, which is quite surprising, is that [physicians] are on average less adherent to guidelines," Maria Polyakova, PhD, one of the study authors and assistant professor of health policy at Stanford (Calif.) University, told the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in a blog post. Researchers from MIT and Harvard University, both based in Cambridge, Mass., also led the study.

Researchers also considered reasons behind the lower adherence among physicians and attributed it to medical professionals possessing "superior information about guidelines" for prescription drugs. 

"The results imply that probably what's going on is that experts have a more nuanced understanding of what is the right course of action for themselves, and how that might be different than what the guidelines suggest," Dr. Polyakova said. 

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