Factors influencing inappropriate use of antibiotics in outpatient and community settings in China: a mixed-methods systematic review

BMJ Glob Health. 2020 Nov;5(11):e003599. doi: 10.1136/bmjgh-2020-003599.


Background: For decades, antibiotics have been excessively consumed around the world, contributing to increased antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and negatively impacting health outcomes and expenditures. Antibiotic use in China accounts for half of worldwide antibiotic consumption, which mainly takes place in outpatient and community settings, and often unnecessarily for self-limiting community-acquired infections. This study aimed to identify and assess factors of inappropriate use of antibiotics in the Chinese context to inform the development of interventions to mitigate inappropriate consumption in the absence of clinical indications.

Methods: We conducted a mixed-methods systematic review and included empirical studies with original data conducted in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan that investigated factors of antibiotic use in the community including outpatient care among patients, caregivers and prescribers. We searched MEDLINE, EMBASE, the Cochrane Library, PsycINFO, Google Scholar and one Chinese database CNKI (China Knowledge Resource Integrated Database), using a combination of the key terms 'antibiotic', 'antimicrobial', 'use', 'consumption', 'behaviour', 'prescribe' and related syntax for all peer-reviewed publications published before June 2020. Health Belief Model was employed for data synthesis.

Findings: Fifty-four studies were included in the full-text review: 44 quantitative, 5 qualitative and 5 mixed-methods studies. Despite a high AMR awareness, public perception/misconception of antibiotic efficacy and easy access to antibiotics for self-limiting conditions drive inappropriate demand and use in the community including primary care setting. Providers' prescribing behaviours are influenced by financial incentives, lack of diagnostic capacity and concerns over complications.

Conclusions: Inappropriate outpatient and community antibiotic use is influenced by non-biomedical factors at the individual, community, health system and societal levels in mainland China, contributing to a high antibiotic use rate. This study calls for context-tailored One Health interventions, restrictive antibiotic drug policy and multifaceted antibiotic stewardship programmes that simultaneously address drivers of inappropriate use from both the supply-side and demand-side within and beyond clinical settings.

Prospero registration number: CRD42019139591.

Keywords: health policy; health systems; public health; respiratory infections; systematic review.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents* / therapeutic use
  • China / epidemiology
  • Hong Kong
  • Humans
  • Outpatients*
  • Taiwan


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents