Objectives: To investigate the views of parents, clinicians, and children pertaining to prescribing decisions for acute childhood infection in primary care.
Methods: A systematic review of qualitative studies. Meta-ethnographic methods were used, with data drawn from the primary studies in an interpretive analysis.
Results: A total of 15 studies met the inclusion criteria. The literature was dominated by concerns about antibiotic over-prescription. Children's views were not reported. Clinicians prescribed antibiotics when they felt pressured by parents or others (e.g. employers) to do so, when they believed there was a clear clinical indication, but also when they felt uncertain of clinical or social outcomes they prescribed "just in case". Parents wanted antibiotics when they felt they would improve the current illness, and when they felt pressure from daycare providers or employers. Clinicians avoided antibiotics when they were concerned about adverse reactions or drug resistance, when certain they were not indicated, and when there was no perceived pressure from parents. Parents also wished to avoid adverse effects of antibiotics, and did not want antibiotics when they would not relieve current symptoms. Some parents preferred to avoid medication altogether. Within paediatric consultations, parents sought a medical evaluation and decision. Primary care clinicians want satisfied parents and short consultations.
Conclusions: Antibiotic prescriptions for childhood infections in primary care often result from "just in case" prescribing. These findings suggest that interventions which reduce clinician uncertainty regarding social or clinical outcomes and provide strategies to meet parents' needs within a short consultation are most likely to reduce antibiotic prescribing.
Keywords: Anti-bacterial agents; United Kingdom; child; general practice; primary health care; qualitative research; systematic review.