Let's Talk About Antibiotics: a randomised trial of two interventions to reduce antibiotic misuse

BMJ Open. 2022 Nov 21;12(11):e049258. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2021-049258.


Background: Children with acute respiratory tract infections (ARTIs) receive ≈11.4 million unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions annually. A noted contributor is inadequate parent-clinician communication, however, efforts to reduce overprescribing have only indirectly targeted communication or been impractical.

Objectives: Compare two feasible (higher vs lower intensity) interventions for enhancing parent-clinician communication on the rate of inappropriate antibiotic prescribing.

Design: Multisite, parallel group, cluster randomised comparative effectiveness trial. Data collected between March 2017 and March 2019.

Setting: Academic and private practice outpatient clinics.

Participants: Clinicians (n=41, 85% of eligible approached) and 1599 parent-child dyads (ages 1-5 years with ARTI symptoms, 71% of eligible approached).

Interventions: All clinicians received 20 min ARTI diagnosis and treatment education. Higher intensity clinicians received an additional 50 min communication skills training. All parents viewed a 90 second antibiotic education video.

Main outcomes and measures: Inappropriate antibiotic treatment was assessed via blinded medical record review by study clinicians and a priori defined as prescriptions for the wrong diagnosis or use of the wrong agent. Secondary outcomes were revisits, adverse drug reactions (both assessed 2 weeks after the visit) and parent ratings of provider communication, shared decision-making and visit satisfaction (assessed at end of the visit on Likert-type scales).

Results: Most clinicians completed the study (n=38, 93%), were doctors (n=25, 66%), female (n=30, 78%) and averaged 8 years in practice. All parent-child dyad provided data for the main outcome (n=855 (54%) male, n=1043 (53%) <2 years). Inappropriate antibiotic prescribing was similar among patients who consulted with a higher intensity (54/696, 7.8%) versus a lower intensity (85/904, 9.4%) clinician. A generalised linear mixed effect regression model (adjusted for the two-stage nested design, clinician type, clinic setting and clinician experience) revealed that the odds of receiving inappropriate antibiotic treatment did not significantly vary by group (AOR 0.99, 95% CI: 0.52 to 1.89, p=0.98). Secondary outcomes of revisits and adverse reactions did not vary between arms, and parent ratings of satisfaction with quality of parent-provider communication (5/5), shared decision making (9/10) and visit satisfaction (5/5) were similarly high in both arms.

Conclusions and relevance: Rate of inappropriate prescribing was low in both arms. Clinician education coupled with parent education may be sufficient to yield low inappropriate antibiotic prescribing rates. The absence of a significant difference between groups indicates that communication principles previously thought to drive inappropriate prescribing may need to be re-examined or may not have as much of an impact in practices where prescribing has improved in recent years.

Trial registration number: NCT03037112.

Keywords: Community child health; Infection control; PAEDIATRICS; PREVENTIVE MEDICINE; PUBLIC HEALTH; Paediatric A&E and ambulatory care.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents* / therapeutic use
  • Child, Preschool
  • Communication
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inappropriate Prescribing / prevention & control
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Prescriptions
  • Respiratory Tract Infections* / drug therapy


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT03037112