Private physicians in urban Uganda treat a large percentage of common adult illnesses. Improving their prescribing would not only encourage more rational drug use, but also reduce costs to patients. Interventions to improve drug use are generally more successful when face-to-face educational methods are included.
To determine the effectiveness of a face-to-face educational intervention on the treatment of acute respiratory infections (ARI), malaria, and non-dysenteric diarrhoea by private physicians in three urban areas of Uganda.
The study used an intervention with comparison group design to evaluate the impact of the educational intervention. A total of 108 private physicians was divided into intervention (n = 30) and control (n = 78) groups. Surrogate patients, trained to simulate presenting symptoms and signs of the target conditions, were used to collect data on the medical practices and prescribing behaviours of the physicians. Intervention physicians were invited to a one-day interactive educational seminar facilitated by local opinion leaders that covered principles of rational drug use and the National Standard Treatment Guidelines for treating the target conditions. Physicians were also provided with data about baseline practices.
Baseline data indicated high rates of inappropriate treatment practices by both intervention and control groups. There was nearly universal antibiotic use for ARI (over 90%), high rates of injections recommended for malaria (over 30%), and high rates of polypharmacy (over thee drugs per patient). After the intervention, some significant improvements in key practices were observed in the intervention group. Compared to control physicians, antibiotic prescribing for ARI decreased by 23% in the intervention group, use of combination products for malaria declined by 28%, there were trends towards better adherence to guidelines for ARI and malaria, and marginal decreases in drug costs. However, the overall impacts of the intervention were limited, especially on quality indicators concerning history taking, adequate examination, and advice to patients.
The face-to-face educational intervention resulted in some small improvements in key prescribing practices of private physicians. However, an intervention that involved repeated contacts with prescribers and which addressed economic considerations would be needed to obtain larger improvements. Private physicians need to be sensitized to and encouraged to use the National Standard Treatment Guidelines, and attempts to improve their prescribing should be supported by community education.