Tensions in antibiotic prescribing: pitting social concerns against the interests of individual patients

J Gen Intern Med. 2002 Feb;17(2):87-94. doi: 10.1046/j.1525-1497.2002.10711.x.


Background: To reduce the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the community, physicians must optimize their use of antibiotics. However, optimal use from the perspective of the community (reserving newer agents for future use) is not always consistent with optimal use from the perspective of the individual patient (prescribing newer, broader agents).

Objectives: To identify preferred patterns of antibiotic prescribing for patients with community-acquired pneumonia (CAP), measure explicit attitudes toward antibiotics and antibiotic resistance, and determine the relationship between these prescribing patterns and attitudes.

Design: Cross-sectional anonymous mail survey.

Participants: National random sample of 400 generalist physicians (general internal medicine and family practice) and 429 infectious diseases specialists.

Measurements: Rank ordering of antibiotic preferences for a hypothetical outpatient with CAP and reasons for antibiotic selection. Endorsement of attitudes regarding antibiotic prescribing decisions and resistance.

Results: Both generalists and infectious diseases specialists were more likely to prefer newer, broader drugs for the treatment of CAP compared to older agents still recommended by national guidelines. Physicians rated the issue of contributing to antibiotic resistance lowest among 7 determinants of their choices.

Conclusions: Despite national guidelines and increasing public awareness, the public health concern of contributing to the problem of antibiotic resistance does not exert a strong impact on physician prescribing decisions for CAP. Future efforts to optimize antibiotic prescribing decisions will need to consider options for increasing the impact of public health issues on the patient-oriented decisions of individual physicians.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Community-Acquired Infections / diagnosis
  • Community-Acquired Infections / drug therapy
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Data Collection
  • Drug Prescriptions / statistics & numerical data
  • Drug Resistance, Microbial
  • Drug Utilization / statistics & numerical data*
  • Drug Utilization / trends
  • Family Practice / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pneumonia, Bacterial / diagnosis
  • Pneumonia, Bacterial / drug therapy*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents