In The Netherlands, national guidelines for the treatment of adult patients with bacterial meningitis were introduced in October 1997. In 1998 we began a prospective, nationwide study to evaluate the compliance with these consensus-based guidelines. In addition, we evaluated whether the recommended initial treatment provides adequate microbiological coverage. From October 1998 to January 2000, 365 adults with bacterial meningitis were identified using information from The Netherlands Reference Laboratory for Bacterial Meningitis; 263 patients were classified into four categories depending on patient's age and underlying health status. In the first category, patients 16-60 years without risk factors, Neisseria meningitidis was the most common pathogen (53%); 62 of 127 patients (49%) received treatment in compliance with the guidelines. In the second and third categories, patients >60 years without risk factors and those with risk factors independently of age, Streptococcus pneumoniae caused 61% and 58% of cases, respectively. Compliance in these categories was about 17%. Overall, 33% of patients received treatment in compliance with the guidelines. The microbiological coverage of patients treated in compliance and not in compliance with the guidelines was 98% and 93%, respectively. In conclusion, 1 year after national consensus-based guidelines for the initial treatment of adult patient with bacterial meningitis were introduced in The Netherlands, only one-third of Dutch physicians were adhering to the guidelines. The microbiological coverage for the patients who were treated in compliance with the guidelines was almost complete (98%).