Diagnostic labelling as determinant of antibiotic prescribing for acute respiratory tract episodes in general practice

BMC Fam Pract. 2007 Sep 20:8:55. doi: 10.1186/1471-2296-8-55.


Background: Next to other GP characteristics, diagnostic labelling (the proportion of acute respiratory tract (RT) episodes to be labelled as infections) probably contributes to a higher volume of antibiotic prescriptions for acute RT episodes. However, it is unknown whether there is an independent association between diagnostic labelling and the volume of prescribed antibiotics, or whether diagnostic labelling is associated with the number of presented acute RT episodes and consequently with the number of antibiotics prescribed per patient per year.

Methods: Data were used from the Second Dutch National Survey of General Practice (DNSGP-2) with 163 GPs from 85 Dutch practices, serving a population of 359,625 patients. Data over a 12 month period were analysed by means of multiple linear regression analysis. Main outcome measure was the volume of antibiotic prescriptions for acute RT episodes per 1,000 patients.

Results: The incidence was 236.9 acute RT episodes/1,000 patients. GPs labelled about 70% of acute RT episodes as infections, and antibiotics were prescribed in 41% of all acute RT episodes. A higher incidence of acute RT episodes (beta 0.67), a stronger inclination to label episodes as infections (beta 0.24), a stronger endorsement of the need of antibiotics in case of white spots in the throat (beta 0.11) and being male (beta 0.11) were independent determinants of the prescribed volume of antibiotics for acute RT episodes, whereas diagnostic labelling was not correlated with the incidence of acute RT episodes.

Conclusion: Diagnostic labelling is a relevant factor in GPs' antibiotic prescribing independent from the incidence of acute RT episodes. Therefore, quality assurance programs and postgraduate courses should emphasise to use evidence based prognostic criteria (e.g. chronic respiratory co-morbidity and old age) as an indication to prescribe antibiotics in stead of single inflammation signs or diagnostic labels.

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Anti-Infective Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Drug Prescriptions / statistics & numerical data*
  • Family Practice
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / diagnosis*
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / drug therapy*
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / epidemiology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Terminology as Topic*


  • Anti-Infective Agents