OBJECTIVE: To determine whether the way in which information on benefits and harms of long-term hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is presented influences family physicians' intentions to prescribe this treatment.
DESIGN: Family physicians were randomized to receive information on treatment outcomes expressed in relative terms, or as the number needing to be treated (NNT) with HRT to prevent or cause an event. A control group received no information.
SETTING: Primary care.
PARTICIPANTS: Family physicians practicing in the Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia.
INTERVENTION: Estimates of the impact of long-term HRT on risk of coronary events, hip fractures, and breast cancer were summarized as relative (proportional) decreases or increases in risk, or as NNT.
MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: Intention to prescribe HRT for seven hypothetical patients was measured on Likert scales. Of 389 family physicians working in the Hunter Valley, 243 completed the baseline survey and 215 participated in the randomized trial. Baseline intention to prescribe varied across patients—it was highest in the presence of risk factors for hip fracture, but coexisting risk factors for breast cancer had a strong negative influence. Overall, a larger proportion of subjects receiving information expressed as NNT had reduced intentions, and a smaller proportion had increased intentions to prescribe HRT than those receiving the information expressed in relative terms, or the control group. However, the differences were small and only reached statistical significance for three hypothetical patients. Framing effects were minimal when the hypothetical patient had coexisting risk factors for breast cancer.
CONCLUSIONS: Information framing had some effect on family physicians' intentions to prescribe HRT, but the effects were smaller than those previously reported, and they were modified by the presence of serious potential adverse treatment effects.