Objectives: The aims of this study were to examine how GPs manage the consultation for upper resiratory tract infections (URTIs) and the prescribing of antibiotics, to understand what skills and strategies are used in managing URTIs without antibiotics, and to note evidence of pressure on doctors to prescribe and whether there are signs of overt disagreement about prescribing in the consultation.
Methods: A qualitative analysis of audiotaped consultations was carried out. The setting was a general practice in South Wales and the subjects were five GPs and 29 parents presenting children with URTIs over a 2-week period. The main outcome measures were skills and strategies identified from audiotapes of consultations.
Results: This group of GPs used a set of readily identifiable consulting skills for managing the consultation without prescribing. Their consultations had a highly routinized quality. There was little evidence of either conflict or overt pressure from parents to prescribe. The word 'antibiotics' was seldom mentioned. Clinicians did not elicit patient expectations for receiving antibiotics.
Conclusions: Doctors use a set of readily identifiable skills in managing the URTI consultation. Avoiding the prescribing of antibiotics is not necessarily a simple and straightforward matter. Since patients apparently want antibiotics less than anticipated, eliciting expectations might be a way of reducing prescribing and broadening the approach to meeting patient needs. Whether doctors can adjust their routinized consulting patterns in the time-limited context of general practice remains an open question.