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07.12.15

Patients less satisfied with GPs who prescribe fewer antibiotics, study shows

GPs who prescribe less antibiotics have less satisfied patients, which could mean that developing a cautious approach to antibiotics prescribing may require a trade-off, a study by King’s College London researchers has found.

The study, published by the British Journal of General Practice, suggested that a 25% reduction in antibiotic prescribing would be associated with 0.5-1% lower patient satisfaction scores – a drop of between three and six percentile points in national satisfaction ranking.

Dr Tim Ballard, vice-chair of the Royal College of GPs, said this could be because patients want to feel like they have taken something away from their appointment, especially as they often have to wait a long time to secure one.

But he said it was concerning that patients associate antibiotics prescriptions with a satisfactory visit to their GP, especially since antibiotics are not the appropriate form of treatment in many cases – and “could actually do more harm than good”.

“We all have a responsibility to curb this trend, and we need to work together to make the public realise that prescribing antibiotics is not always the answer to treating minor, self-limiting illness,” Ballard said.

“Family doctors will prescribe antibiotics where the evidence suggests that they are likely to help people get better more quickly, but patients need to know that if we do not prescribe antibiotics, we are not being mean – we are acting in the best interests of their health.”

He also claimed it was frustrating that the GP practices working hard to reduce these prescriptions to prevent diseases becoming resistant to them are facing plummeting satisfaction ratings.

“It truly is a case of being damned if we do and damned if we don’t,” he continued. “Public perception needs to change – our patients need to understand that when diseases become resistant to antibiotics, it means that antibiotics will cease to work and as it stands, we don’t have an alternative.”

The findings are particularly relevant in light of relatively recent guidance from NICE that healthcare professionals should scale back inappropriate prescribing of antibiotic treatments to help curb rising resistance to the drugs.

At the time, the General Medical Council even said that doctors who keep overprescribing could be referred to the regulator as a last resort.

But nine out of 10 GPs said that they felt pressured to prescribe the drugs, with 97% of patients who ask for it being prescribed.

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