The widely used OpenPrescribing.net service provides standard measures which compare prescribing of Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) and English General Practices against that of their peers. Detecting changes in prescribing behaviour compared with peers can help identify missed opportunities for medicines optimisation. Automating the process of detecting these changes is necessary due to the volume of data, but challenging due to variation in prescribing volume for different measures and locations. We set out to develop and implement a method of detecting change on all individual prescribing measures, in order to notify CCGs and practices of such changes in a timely manner.
We used the statistical process control method CUSUM to detect prescribing behaviour changes in relation to population trends for the individual standard measures on OpenPrescribing. Increases and decreases in percentile were detected separately, using a multiple of standard deviation as the threshold for detecting change. The algorithm was modified to continue re-triggering when trajectory persists. It was deployed, user-tested, and summary statistics generated on the number of alerts by CCG and practice.
The algorithm detected changes in prescribing for 32 prespecified measures, across a wide range of CCG and practice sizes. Across the 209 English CCGs, a mean of 2.5 increase and 2.4 decrease alerts were triggered per CCG, per month. For the 7578 practices, a mean of 1.3 increase and 1.4 decrease alerts were triggered per practice, per month.
The CUSUM method appears to effectively discriminate between random noise and sustained change in prescribing behaviour. This method aims to allow practices and CCGs to be informed of important changes quickly, with a view to improve their prescribing behaviour. The number of alerts triggered for CCGs and practices appears to be appropriate. Prescribing behaviour after users are alerted to changes will be monitored in order to assess the impact of these alerts.