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Innovation and antibiotics – as one goes up, the other goes down

One example of innovative work was when the Behavioural Economics Team of the Australian Government (BETA) teamed up with the Department of Health to lower antibiotic prescribing.

BETA puts human behaviour at the heart of Australian public policy and they’re on a mission to build behavioural insights capability across the APS. They’ve been busy educating, experimenting and building partnerships with APS agencies, academics and the private sector. Illustrating the power of behavioural insights is the successful nudge to reduce prescriptions for antibiotics. Antimicrobial resistance is a global health problem, already killing over 700,000 people every year. A UK government report estimates if we do nothing, this number will rise to 10 million people every year, with a cost to the global economy of up to US$100 trillion by 2050. It’s fuelled in part by misuse of antibiotics—so it’s critical they are prescribed only when needed.

To help address this problem, BETA partnered with the Behavioural Economics and Research Team at the Department of Health to use behavioural insights to test novel ways of bringing these rates down. In 2018, the Chief Medical Officer sent behaviourally informed letters to 5,311 general practitioners whose antibiotic prescribing rates were in the top 30 per cent of their geographic region. The most effective letter compared the doctor’s prescribing behaviour to their peers, and resulted in a 12.3 per cent reduction in prescriptions over six months. It’s estimated the trial resulted in around 126,000 fewer scripts over a six-month period.

Read more case studies of public sector innovation in the APS Innovation Sampler, produced by the Public Sector Innovation Network.   

Last reviewed: 
1 July 2019