Background: There are several consensus-describing decision rules for patients in primary health care with a sore throat. The objective of this study was to estimate the number of unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions in primary health care given to patients with a sore throat, due to these different decision rules. A further aim was to suggest revised rules for decision-making in primary health care, when a sore throat caused by group A beta-haemolytic streptococci (GAS) is suspected.
Methods: The design was a reanalysis of previously published articles describing the prevalence of GAS and physician behaviour when treating patients with a sore throat. The risk of unnecessary antibiotic prescribing in different situations was estimated and applied to the Swedish population.
Results: Introducing the rule of never prescribing antibiotics without first confirming the presence of GAS would result in an annual reduction in Sweden of 20,360-25,192 unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions in children and 65,311-98,160 in adults.
Conclusions: The single most important rule in primary health care to minimize the risk of unnecessary antibiotic prescription to patients with an uncomplicated sore throat, and where an infection with GAS is suspected, is to never prescribe antibiotics at the first visit without first confirming the presence of this bacterium. Adding more decision rules may to some extent further reduce the number of unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions.