BACKGROUND: Unsolicited feedback can solicit changes in prescribing. OBJECTIVES: Determine whether a low-cost intervention increases clinicians' engagement with data, and changes prescribing; with or without behavioural science techniques. METHODS: Randomized trial (ISRCTN86418238). The highest prescribing practices in England for broad-spectrum antibiotics were allocated to: feedback with behavioural impact optimization; plain feedback; or no intervention. Feedback was sent monthly for 3 months by letter, fax and email. Each included a link to a prescribing dashboard. The primary outcomes were dashboard usage and change in prescribing. RESULTS: A total of 1401 practices were randomized: 356 behavioural optimization, 347 plain feedback, and 698 control. For the primary engagement outcome, more intervention practices had their dashboards viewed compared with controls [65.7% versus 55.9%; RD 9.8%, 95% confidence intervals (CIs): 4.76% to 14.9%, P < 0.001]. More plain feedback practices had their dashboard viewed than behavioural feedback practices (69.1% versus 62.4%); but not meeting the P < 0.05 threshold (6.8%, 95% CI: -0.19% to 13.8%, P = 0.069). For the primary prescribing outcome, intervention practices possibly reduced broad-spectrum prescribing to a greater extent than controls (1.42% versus 1.12%); but again not meeting the P < 0.05 threshold (coefficient -0.31%, CI: -0.7% to 0.1%, P = 0.104). The behavioural impact group reduced broad-spectrum prescribing to a greater extent than plain feedback practices (1.63% versus 1.20%; coefficient 0.41%, CI: 0.007% to 0.8%, P = 0.046). No harms were detected. CONCLUSIONS: Unsolicited feedback increased practices' engagement with data, with possible slightly reduced antibiotic prescribing (P = 0.104). Behavioural science techniques gave greater prescribing effects. The modest effects on prescribing may reflect saturation from similar initiatives on antibiotic prescribing. CLINICAL TRIAL REGISTRATION: ISRCTN86418238.
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