Objectives: To assess the appropriateness of prescribing systemic antibiotics for different clinical conditions in primary care, and to quantify 'ideal' antibiotic prescribing proportions in conditions for which antibiotic treatment is sometimes but not always indicated.
Methods: Prescribing guidelines were consulted to define the appropriateness of antibiotic therapy for the conditions that resulted in antibiotic prescriptions between 2013 and 2015 in The Health Improvement Network (THIN) primary care database. The opinions of subject experts were then formally elicited to quantify ideal antibiotic prescribing proportions for 10 common conditions.
Results: Of the antibiotic prescriptions in THIN, 52.5% were for conditions that could be assessed using prescribing guidelines. Among these, the vast majority of prescriptions (91.4%) were for conditions where antibiotic appropriateness is conditional on patient-specific indicators. Experts estimated low ideal prescribing proportions in acute, non-comorbid presentations of many of these conditions, such as cough (10% of patients), rhinosinusitis (11%), bronchitis (13%) and sore throat (13%). Conversely, antibiotics were believed to be appropriate in 75% of non-pregnant women with non-recurrent urinary tract infection. In impetigo and acute exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, experts clustered into distinct groups that believed in either high or low prescribing.
Conclusions: In English primary care, most antibiotics are prescribed for conditions that only sometimes require antibiotic treatment, depending on patient-specific indicators. Experts estimated low ideal prescribing proportions in many of these conditions. Incomplete prescribing guidelines and disagreement about prescribing in some conditions highlight further research needs.