'The body gets used to them': patients' interpretations of antibiotic resistance and the implications for containment strategies

J Gen Intern Med. 2012 Jul;27(7):766-72. doi: 10.1007/s11606-011-1916-1. Epub 2011 Nov 8.


Background: Interventions promoting evidence based antibiotic prescribing and use frequently build on the concept of antibiotic resistance but patients and clinicians may not share the same assumptions about its meaning.

Objective: To explore patients' interpretations of 'antibiotic resistance' and to consider the implications for strategies to contain antibiotic resistance.

Design: Multi country qualitative interview study.

Participants: One hundred and twenty-one adult patients from primary care research networks based in nine European countries who had recently consulted a primary care clinician with symptoms of Lower Respiratory Tract Infection (LRTI).

Approach: Semi-structured interviews with patients following their consultation and subjected to a five-stage analytic framework approach (familiarization, developing a thematic framework from the interview questions and the themes emerging from the data, indexing, charting, and mapping to search for interpretations in the data), with local network facilitators commenting on preliminary reports.

Results: The dominant theme was antibiotic resistance as a property of a 'resistant human body', where the barrier to antibiotic effectiveness was individual loss of responsiveness. Less commonly, patients correctly conceptualized antibiotic resistance as a property of bacteria. Nevertheless, the over-use of antibiotics was a strong central concept in almost all patients' explanations, whether they viewed resistance as located in either the body or in bacteria.

Conclusions: Most patients were aware of the link between antibiotic use and antibiotic resistance. The identification of the misinterpretation of antibiotic resistance as a property of the human body rather than bacterial cells could inform clearer clinician-patient discussions and public health interventions through emphasising the transferability of resistance, and the societal contribution individuals can make through more appropriate antibiotic prescribing and use.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Drug Prescriptions
  • Drug Resistance, Microbial*
  • Europe
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Primary Health Care
  • Qualitative Research
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / drug therapy
  • Young Adult


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents