Background: Given the high prevalence of medication use in the US, the risk of drug-drug interactions (DDIs) and potential for patient harm is of concern. Despite the rise in technologies to identify potential DDIs, the ability of physicians and other prescribers to recognize potential DDIs is essential to reduce their occurrence. The objectives of this study were to assess prescribers’ ability to recognize potential clinically significant DDIs and to examine the sources of information they use to identify potential DDIs and prescribers’ opinions on the usefulness of various DDI information sources.
Methods: A postal questionnaire was developed to assess prescriber knowledge of medications that may interact and prescribers’ usual sources of DDI information. Recipients were asked to classify 14 drug pairs as ‘contraindicated’, ‘may be used together but with monitoring’ or ‘no interaction’. A response option of ‘not sure’ was also provided. The questionnaires were sent to a national sample of 12 500 prescribers based on past history of prescribing drugs associated with known potential for DDI, who were identified using data from a pharmacy benefit manager covering over 50 million individuals.
Results: Usable questionnaires were obtained from 950 prescribers. The percentage of prescribers who correctly classified specific drug pairs ranged from 18.2% for warfarin and cimetidine to 81.2% for paracetamol (acetaminophen) with codeine and amoxicillin, with 42.7% of all combinations classified correctly. The number of drug pairs correctly classified by the prescribers ranged from 0 to 13. For half of the drug pairs over one-third of the respondents answered ‘not sure’; among those drug pairs, two were contraindicated. When asked what source was used to learn more about a potential DDI, a quarter of the prescribers reported using personal digital assistants and another quarter used printed material. The majority of the prescribers (68.4%) reported that they were usually informed by pharmacists about their patients’ potential exposure to DDIs. Compared with the prescribers who used other sources, those who used computerized DDI alerts as their usual source of DDI information consistently gave a lower rating score to the five statements that assessed the usefulness of the information.
Conclusion: This study suggests that prescribers’ knowledge of potential clinically significant DDIs is generally poor. These findings are supported by other research and emphasize the need to develop systems that alert prescribers about potential interactions that are clinically relevant. Physicians most commonly reported learning about potential DDIs from pharmacists, suggesting further work is needed to improve the drug-prescribing process to identify potential safety issues earlier in the medication use process.