Background: Long-term prescriptions of strong opioids for chronic noncancer pain-which are not supported by scientific evidence-suggest miscalibrated risk perceptions among those who prescribe, dispense, and take opioids. Because risk perceptions and behaviors can differ depending on whether people learn about risks through description or experience, we investigated the effects of descriptive versus simulated-experience educative formats on physicians' risk perceptions of strong opioids and their prescription behavior for managing chronic noncancer pain.
Methods: Three hundred general practitioners and 300 pain specialists in Germany-enrolled separately in two independent exploratory randomized controlled online trials-were randomly assigned to either a descriptive format (fact box) or a simulated-experience format (interactive simulation).
Primary endpoints: Objective risk perception (numerical estimates of opioids' benefits and harms), actual prescriptions of seven therapy options for managing chronic pain.
Secondary endpoint: Implementation of intended prescriptions of seven therapy options for managing chronic pain.
Results: Both formats improved the proportion of correct numerical estimates of strong opioids' benefits and harms immediately after intervention, with no notable differences between formats. Compared to description, simulated experience led to significantly lower reported actual prescription rates for strong and/or weak opioids, and was more effective at increasing prescription rates for non-drug-based therapies (e.g., means of opioid reduction) from baseline to follow-up for both general practitioners and pain specialists. Simulated experience also resulted in a higher implementation of intended behavior for some drug-based and non-drug-based therapies.
Conclusions: The two formats, which recruit different cognitive processes, may serve different risk-communication goals: If the goal is to improve exact risk perception, descriptive and simulated-experience formats are likely to be equally suitable. If, however, the goal is to boost less risky prescription habits, simulated experience may be the better choice.