BACKGROUND: Pragmatic trials of implementation interventions focus on evaluating whether an intervention changes professional behaviour under real-world conditions rather than investigating the mechanism through which change occurs. Theory-based process evaluations conducted alongside pragmatic randomised trials address this by assessing whether the intervention changes theoretical constructs proposed to mediate change. The Ontario Printed Educational Materials (PEM) cluster trial was designed to increase family physicians' guideline-recommended prescription of thiazide diuretics. The trial found no intervention effect. Using the theory of planned behaviour (TPB), we hypothesised that changes in thiazide prescribing would be reflected in changes in intention, consistent with changes in attitude and subjective norm, with no change to their perceived behavioural control (PBC), and tested this alongside the RCT.
METHODS: We developed and sent TPB postal questionnaires to a random sub-sample of family physicians in each trial arm 2 months before and 6 months after dissemination of the PEMs. We used analysis of covariance to test for group differences using a 2 × 3 factorial design. We content-analysed an open-ended question about perceived barriers to thiazide prescription. Using control group data, we tested whether baseline measures of TPB constructs predicted self-reported thiazide prescribing at follow-up.
RESULTS: Four hundred twenty-six physicians completed pre- and post-intervention questionnaires. Baseline scores on measures of TPB constructs were high: intention mean = 5.9 out of 7 (SD = 1.4), attitude mean = 5.8 (SD = 1.1), subjective norm mean = 5.8 (SD = 1.1) and PBC mean = 6.2 (SD = 1.0). The arms did not significantly differ post-intervention on any of the theory-based constructs, suggesting a possible ceiling effect. Content analysis of perceived barriers suggested post-intentional barriers to prescribing thiazides most often focused on specific patient clinical characteristics and potential side effects. Baseline intention (β = 0.63, p < 0.01) but not PBC (β = 0.04, p = 0.78) predicted 42.6 % of the variance in self-reported behaviour at follow-up in the control group.
CONCLUSIONS: Congruent with the Ontario Printed Educational Messages trial results and aligned with the TPB, we saw no impact of the intervention on any TPB constructs. The theoretical basis of this evaluation suggests possible explanations for the failure of the PEM intervention to change professional behaviour, which can directly inform the design and content of future theory-based PEM interventions to change professional behaviour.
TRIAL REGISTRATION: ISRCTN, Canada ISRCTN72772651.