Letters to Doctors Help Fight Over-Prescription of Antibiotics

A new trial conducted in England has discovered a cost-effective way to reduce the overprescribing of antibiotics by general practitioners (GPs).

A new trial conducted in England has discovered a cost-effective way to reduce the overprescribing of antibiotics by general practitioners (GPs).

As described in a recent research study, published in The Lancet, England’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, Public Health England, the Department of Health, and the Behavioural Insights Team recently conducted a study to test whether or not behavioral science could improve GPs’ prescribing habits.

The study tested two methods of reducing antibiotic use. The first method included a GP-focused campaign, while the second method was patient-focused. In the first method, the researchers mailed letters, signed by Dame Sally Davies, to GPs with high antibiotic prescribing rates, stating that “80% of practices in their local area prescribed fewer antibiotics per head than [that GP’s practice].” The letters also included 3 guidelines on determining the necessity of prescriptions.

The second, patient-focused method, consisted of sending posters and leaflets to GP practices that supported the reduced use of antibiotics.

Over a 6-month period, the researchers found that antibiotic-prescribing rates from those GPs that received a letter decreased by an average of 3.3%. The GP-focused method resulted in 73,000 fewer prescriptions with a direct savings of £92,000 in prescription costs. The cost of the letters was substantially low, at £0.06 for each prescription prevented. Conversely, the patient-focused method did not yield a significant change in antibiotic-prescribing rates.

“This innovative trial has shown effective and low cost ways to reduce unnecessary prescribing of antibiotics, which is essential if we are to preserve these precious medicines and help to save modern medicine as we know it,” Dame Sally Davies said in a press release.

In response to the research, Ian Gould from Aberdeen Royal Infirmary and Timothy Lawes from Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital stated, “The urgent, worldwide, and ecological nature of antibiotic resistance suggests that behavioural interventions should complement, rather than replace, top-down strategies.”

The overuse of antibiotics is a growing concern in the UK; however, there is a 5-year plan to reduce primary care physicians’ antibiotic prescription by 4%.