Cough and cold medicine prescription rates can be significantly reduced by active intervention

Péter Csonka, Paula Heikkilä, Sonja Koskela, Sauli Palmu, Noora Lajunen, Sari Riihijärvi, Heini Huhtala, Matti Korppi

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Our aim was to construct and test an intervention programme to eradicate cough and cold medicine (CCM) prescriptions for children treated in a nationwide healthcare service company. The study was carried out in the largest private healthcare service company in Finland with a centralised electronic health record system allowing for real-time, doctor-specific practice monitoring. The step-by-step intervention consisted of company-level dissemination of educational materials to doctors and families, educational staff meetings, continuous monitoring of prescriptions, and targeted feedback. Outreach visits were held in noncompliant units. Finally, those physicians who most often prescribed CCM were directly contacted. During the intervention period (2017–2020), there were more than one million paediatric visits. Prescriptions of CCMs to children were completely eradicated in 41% of units and the total number of CCM prescriptions decreased from 6738 to 744 (89%). During the fourth intervention year, CCMs containing opioid derivatives were prescribed for only 0.2% of children aged < 2 years. The decrease in prescriptions was greatest in general practitioners (5.2 to 1.1%). In paediatricians, the prescription rates decreased from 1.5 to 0.2%. The annual costs of CCMs decreased from €183,996 to €18,899 (89.7%). For the intervention, the developers used 343 h and the attended doctors used 684 h of work time during the 4-year intervention. The costs used for developing, implementing, reporting, evaluating, communicating, and data managing formed approximately 11% of total intervention costs. Conclusion: The study showed that a nationwide systematic intervention to change cough medicine prescription practices is feasible and requires only modest financial investments.What is Known:• Cough and cold medicines (CCM) are not effective or safe, especially for children aged 6 years.• Although the use of CCMs has been declining, caregivers continue to administer CCMs to children, and some physicians still prescribe them even for preschool children.What is New:• A nationwide systematic intervention can significantly and cost effectively change CCM prescription habits of paediatricians, general practitioners, and other specialists.• Electronic health records provide additional tools for operative guideline implementation and real-time quality monitoring, including recommendations of useless or harmful treatments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1531–1539
Early online date2021
Publication statusPublished - 2022
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Clinical practice
  • Cough medicine
  • Expectorants
  • Guideline implementation
  • Healthcare practice
  • Intervention
  • Quality assessment

Publication forum classification

  • Publication forum level 1

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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