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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Northwestern: Persuading Doctors to Quickly Adopt New Treatments

Doctors are more likely to try a new therapy when they are persuaded to do so by an influential colleague, reports new Northwestern Medicine research whose findings on adopting innovations also have relevance for business, education and research.

The authors have used the new finding to simulate a technology intervention that acts like an influential colleague – opinionated but not too bossy – that they plan to design for the real world. The goal is to accelerate physicians’ adoption of new treatments and tests, which historically can take up to 17 years.

“It’s difficult to get doctors to adopt new therapies because you are invading people’s comfort zones and the way they usually do things,” said lead author Dr. Curtis Weiss, assistant professor in Medicine-Pulmonary.

By analyzing physician social networks, the authors examined how doctors are professionally connected and pass information to each other and how that leads to increasing adoption.

The paper, also by senior author Dr. Luis Amaral, professor in Medicine and the McCormick School of Engineering, was published October 15 in Physical Review X, the journal of the American Physical Society.

The current belief is physicians “catch” a new therapy in what is known as a contagion model. One doctor sees another doctor prescribing a drug or ordering a test, and she will catch or be infected by that new approach and start using it herself.

But the new study found the art of persuasion was more effective at boosting adoption. The trick was finding the sweet spot in frequency and tone of those persuasive messages so they are effective but not off-putting.

The sweet spot for nudging? A reminder every five to seven days delivered as a strong suggestion but not an order, according to the study.

“While our study is focused on critical care physicians, our findings are relevant for other settings in education, research and business where small groups of highly qualified peers make decisions about the adoption of innovations whose utility is difficult if not impossible to gauge,” Dr. Amaral said.

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