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Doctors rationing antibiotics 'less popular with patients'

Published 07/12/2015

Patients are less satisfied with doctors who prescribe fewer antibiotics, according to a survey
Patients are less satisfied with doctors who prescribe fewer antibiotics, according to a survey

GP surgeries which try to help prevent the spread of super-resistant bacteria by prescribing fewer antibiotics are likely to experience a drop in their satisfaction ratings with patients, according to a new study.

The study by King's College London found that a 25% lower rate of antibiotic prescribing by a GP practice corresponded to a 5-6 point reduction on GP satisfaction rankings.

The study, published in the British Journal of General Practice, analysed records from 7,800 general practices - 96% of practices in England - and the NHS GP Patient Survey.

The survey measures patients' satisfaction with their GP and GP practice and is a component of the NHS Quality Outcomes Framework that informs GPs' pay-for-performance.

Antibiotic prescribing was a significant factor in the patient experience. For example, for a practice that prescribed 25% fewer antibiotics than the national average, there was a corresponding reduction in the national GP satisfaction rankings.

Inappropriate use and prescribing of antibiotics is known to contribute to the development of resistant bacteria.

Dr Mark Ashworth, GP and lead author of the study from the King's Division of Health and Social Care Research, said: "Many patients come in asking for antibiotics when they have viral infections such as colds, coughs, sore throats, or the flu, but antibiotics cannot treat viruses.

"GPs often feel pressured by patients to prescribe antibiotics and find it difficult to refuse a patient who asks for them.

"These findings suggest that practices that try to help prevent the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria by prescribing fewer antibiotics are likely to experience a drop in their satisfaction ratings.

"GPs who are frugal in their antibiotic prescribing may need support to maintain patient satisfaction. Although small-scale studies have shown that dissatisfaction about not receiving an antibiotic can be offset if the patient feels that they have been listened to or carefully examined, further research is needed to determine if this will help in the real world of busy GP practices."

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