OHT’s Dr. Ramanan Laxminarayan commented on the findings of an experimental study that sent actors pretending to be the fathers of a sick two-year-old child to over 2,000 randomly selected private doctors and pharmacists in the Indian states of Karnataka and Bihar to assess trends in prescription of oral rehydration solution (ORS), a highly effective method to reduce diarrhea-related mortality among children. Each actor explained that their child had been experiencing diarrhea for two days; some mentioned previous use of ORS and others mentioned antibiotics or no previous treatments. A survey conducted in clinics and pharmacies in Karnataka and Bihar found that 48 percent of more than 1,000 carers in the two states feel that ORS is the best treatment for diarrhea. However, the researchers found that actors who expressed a preference for ORS were twice as likely to receive a prescription for ORS as those who mentioned no treatment.

Dr. Laxminarayan stated, “We think of doctors as neutral decision-makers based on what is best for the patient, and that is often not the case.” Doctors may have a financial motive behind basing their treatment decisions on their perceptions of patient preference. Future work should focus on devising creative strategies to increase ORS prescription among physicians and pharmacists and encourage patients to express their preferences for ORS to their providers.

Read the full news story in Nature here.