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Engagement is a necessary condition to test audit and feedback design features: results of a pragmatic, factorial, cluster-randomized trial with an embedded process evaluation


Background — While audit & feedback (A&F) is an effective implementation intervention, the design elements which maximize effectiveness are unclear. Partnering with a healthcare quality advisory organization already delivering feedback, we conducted a pragmatic, 2 × 2 factorial, cluster-randomized trial to test the impact of variations in two factors: (A) the benchmark used for comparison and (B) information framing. An embedded process evaluation explored hypothesized mechanisms of effect.

Methods — Eligible physicians worked in nursing homes in Ontario, Canada, and had voluntarily signed up to receive the report. Groups of nursing homes sharing physicians were randomized to (A) physicians’ individual prescribing rates compared to top-performing peers (the top quartile) or the provincial median and (B) risk-framed information (reporting the number of patients prescribed high-risk medication) or benefit-framed information (reporting the number of patients not prescribed). We hypothesized that the top quartile comparator and risk-framing would lead to greater practice improvements. The primary outcome was the mean number of central nervous system-active medications per resident per month. Primary analyses compared the four arms at 6 months post-intervention. Factorial analyses were secondary. The process evaluation comprised a follow-up questionnaire and semi-structured interviews.

Results — Two hundred sixty-seven physicians (152 clusters) were randomized: 67 to arm 1 (median benchmark, benefit framing), 65 to arm 2 (top quartile benchmark, benefit framing), 75 to arm 3 (median benchmark, risk framing), and 60 to arm 4 (top quartile benchmark, risk framing). There were no significant differences in the primary outcome across arms or for each factor. However, engagement was low (27–31% of physicians across arms downloaded the report). The process evaluation indicated that both factors minimally impacted the proposed mechanisms. However, risk-framed feedback was perceived as more actionable and more compatible with current workflows, whilst a higher target might encourage behaviour change when physicians identified with the comparator.

Conclusions — Risk framing and a top quartile comparator have the potential to achieve change. Further work to establish the strategies most likely to enhance A&F engagement, particularly with physicians who may be most likely to benefit from feedback, is required to support meaningfully addressing intricate research questions concerning the design of A&F.



McCleary N, Desveaux L, Presseau J, Reis C, Witteman HO, Taljaard M, Linklater S, Thavorn K, Dobell G, Mulhall CL, Lam JMC, Grimshaw JM, Ivers NM. Implement Sci. 2023; 18(1):13. Epub 2023 May 10.

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