Ruling Out the Need for Antibiotics

Are We Sending the Right Message?

Published in: Archives of pediatrics and adolescent medicine, v. 160, no. 9, Sep. 2006, p. 943-952

Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 2005

by Rita Mangione-Smith, Marc N. Elliott, Tanya Stivers, Laurie L. McDonald, John Heritage

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OBJECTIVES: To examine the relationships among physician-parent communication practices, physicians' perceptions of parental expectations for antibiotic treatment, and inappropriate antibiotic prescribing for viral upper respiratory tract infections. DESIGN: Cross-sectional study of pediatric encounters motivated by cold symptoms between October 1, 2000, and June 30, 2001. Each encounter was videotaped. Physicians completed a postvisit survey that measured whether they perceived the parent as expecting antibiotics. Coded communication variables were merged with survey variables. Multivariate analyses identified key predictors of parent-physician communication practices, physician perceptions of parents' expectations for antibiotics, and inappropriate antibiotic prescribing for viral conditions. SETTING: Twenty-seven pediatric practices in Los Angeles, Calif. PARTICIPANTS: Thirty-eight pediatricians and 522 consecutively approached parents of children with cold symptoms. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Physicians' perceptions of parental expectations for antibiotics, inappropriate antibiotic prescribing, and parental questioning of nonantibiotic treatments. RESULTS: Physicians were 20.2% more likely to perceive parents as expecting antibiotics when they questioned the physician's treatment plan (P=.004; 95% confidence interval, 6.3%-34.0%). When physicians perceived parents as expecting antibiotics, they were 31.7% more likely to inappropriately prescribe them (P_.001; 95% confidence interval, 16.0%-47.3%). Parents were 24.0% more likely to question the treatment plan when the physician ruled out the need for antibiotics (P=.004; 95% confidence interval, 7.7%-40.3%). CONCLUSIONS: Parental questioning of the treatment plan increases physicians' perceptions that antibiotics are expected and thus increases inappropriate antibiotic prescribing. Treatment plans that focus on what can be done to make a child feel better, rather than on what is not needed, ie, antibiotics, may decrease inappropriate antibiotic prescribing.

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