A Bitter Pill to Swallow

Nonadherence with Prophylactic Antibiotics During the Anthrax Attacks and the Role of Private Physicians

Published In: Biosecurity and Bioterrorism : Biodefense Strategy, Practice, and Science, v. 2, no. 3, 2004, p. 175-185

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2004

by Bradley D. Stein, Terri Tanielian, Gery W. Ryan, Hilary J. Rhodes, Shalanda D. Young, Janice C. Blanchard

To generate recommendations for improving adherence to public health advice during public health crises, the authors conducted semi-structured interviews with employees at the Brentwood Road Postal Facility and on Capitol Hill to identify key themes associated with decisions to adhere to recommended antibiotic prophylaxis during the 2001 anthrax attacks. Factors used in deciding to adhere to recommended prophylactic antibiotics and concerns about the official response were similar in Brentwood and Capitol Hill employees, and in adherent and nonadherent participants. All participants used multiple sources of information and support as they weighed the risk from anthrax against the advantages and disadvantages of antibiotics. The authors found that nonadherent participants were commonly following the advice of private physicians, whereas adherent participants commonly described ongoing support from multiple sources when discussing their decisions. Our findings highlight the need for better integration between the public and private health care systems during public health crises and the importance of equipping private physicians for their key role in aiding decision-making during a public health crisis. Special attention also should be given to enhancing support and information from multiple sources throughout the entire period of risk.

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