Communication training and antibiotic use in acute respiratory tract infections. A cluster randomised controlled trial in general practice

Swiss Med Wkly. 2006 Apr 15;136(15-16):241-7. doi: 10.4414/smw.2006.11342.


A cluster-randomised controlled trial in general practice

Background: Physician-patient communication plays a key role in treatment decisions in primary care. We aimed to reduce the antibiotic prescription rate for acute respiratory tract infections using a short training programme in patient-centred communication.

Methods: We conducted a cluster-randomised controlled trial in 45 general practices in Switzerland. Thirty physicians received evidence-based guidelines for the management of acute respiratory tract infections; 15 physicians randomised to the full intervention additionally received training in patient-centred communication. A further 15 physicians, not randomised, served as a control to blind the physicians in the other two groups to the true comparison. The primary outcome was the antibiotic prescription rate reported by pharmacists. Secondary outcomes were patient satisfaction and enablement, re-consultation rates, days with restrictions, and days off work. 1108 adults with acute respiratory infections were screened between January and May 2004. Outcomes were measured in 837 consultations; 624 patients had follow-up interviews at 7 and 14 days.

Results: The antibiotic prescription rate reported by pharmacists was low in both full and limited intervention groups (13.5% and 15.7% respectively) but only half of the antibiotics were prescribed according to guidelines (53.8% and 53.1%). No significant differences were seen between the two randomised groups in primary and secondary outcomes. In both groups patient satisfaction was high (median score for both 68 out of 70).

Conclusions: In this trial, patient-centred communication training did not reduce the rate of antibiotic prescriptions below an already unusually low level. Even with this low prescription rate, patient satisfaction with received care was high.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Communication*
  • Drug Utilization
  • Education, Medical, Continuing
  • Family Practice / education*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Patient-Centered Care / methods
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / drug therapy*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents