Background: Antibiotics are widely-used medicines for which a more prudent use has been advocated to minimize development of resistance. There are considerable cross-national differences that can only partially be explained by epidemiological difference and variations in health care structure. The aim of this study was to explore whether cross-national differences in use of antibiotics (prescribed and non-prescribed) are associated with differences between national cultures as described in Hofstede's model of cultural dimensions (Power Distance, Individualism, Masculinity, Uncertainty Avoidance and Long-Term Orientation).
Methods: Country-level data of prescribed antibiotic use and self-medication with antibiotics were correlated to country-specific scores of cultural dimensions obtained from Hofstede. Data on use of antibiotics were provided by three European studies, based on different methods and/or countries: Self-medication with Antibiotics and Resistance in Europe (SAR), based on a survey in 2003 on reported use of antibiotics in 19 countries, the European Surveillance on Antimicrobial Consumption, based on distribution and reimbursement of antibiotics in ambulatory care (1997-2002), and the 2002 interview-based Eurobarometer study, asking whether respondents had taken antibiotics in the previous 12 months. These studies provided data on antibiotics use for 27 European countries in total, for which scores of cultural dimensions were also available. The SAR-study differentiated between prescribed antibiotics and self-medication with antibiotics.
Results: Significant positive correlations were found for Power Distance Index with use of prescribed antibiotics in the three studies (rho between 0.59 and 0.62) and with self-medication (rho = 0.54) in the SAR study. Positive significant correlations were found for the Uncertainty Avoidance Index with the use of antibiotics as reported in two studies (rho between 0.57 and 0.59; for the SAR study the correlations were insignificant). Masculinity was not significantly correlated, except in one study after controlling for GDP (r = 0.81). For Individualism and Long-Term Orientation no significant correlations were found.
Conclusion: Power Distance is a cultural aspect associated with antibiotic use, suggesting that the culture-specific way people deal with authority is an important factor in explaining cross-national differences in antibiotic use. There are indications that Uncertainty Avoidance also plays a role but further research is needed to better understand the complex effect of cultural dimensions.