Purpose: The purpose of the study was to assess the long-term effect of family physicians' use of C-reactive protein (CRP) point-of-care testing and/or physician training in enhanced communication skills on office visit rates and antibiotic prescriptions for patients with respiratory tract infections.
Methods: We conducted a 3.5-year follow-up of a pragmatic, factorial, cluster-randomized controlled trial; 379 patients (20 family practices in the Netherlands) who visited their family physician for acute cough were enrolled in the trial and had follow-up data available (88% of original trial cohort). Main outcome measures were the average number of episodes of respiratory tract infections for which patients visited their family physician per patient per year (PPPY), and the percentage of the episodes for which patients were treated with antibiotics during follow-up.
Results: The mean number of episodes of respiratory tract infections during follow-up was 0.40 PPPY in the CRP test group and 0.56 PPPY in the no CRP test group (P = .12). In the communication skills training group, there was a mean of 0.36 PPPY episodes of respiratory tract infections, and in the no training group the mean was 0.57 PPPY (P = .09). During follow-up 30.7% of all episodes of respiratory tract infection were treated with antibiotics in the CRP test group compared with 35.7% in the no test group (P = .36). Family physicians trained in communication skills treated 26.3% of all episodes of respiratory tract infection with antibiotics compared with 39.1% treated by family physicians without training in communication skills (P = .02)
Conclusions: Family physicians' use of CRP point-of-care testing and/or training in enhanced communication skills did not significantly affect office visit rates related to respiratory tract infections. Patients who saw a family physician trained in enhanced communication skills were prescribed significantly fewer antibiotics during episodes of respiratory tract infection in the subsequent 3.5 years.