Inappropriate antibiotic use for upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs) is an ongoing problem in primary care. There is extreme variation in the prescribing practices of individual physicians, which cannot be explained by clinical factors.
To identify factors associated with high and low prescriber status for management of URTIs in primary care practice.
Exploratory sequential mixed-methods design including interviews with primary care physicians in a large health system followed by a survey. Twenty-nine physicians participated in the qualitative interviews. Interviews were followed by a survey in which 109 physicians participated.
Qualitative interviews were used to obtain perspectives of high and low prescribers on factors that influenced their decision making in the management of URTIs. A quantitative survey was created based on qualitative interviews and responses compared to actual prescribing rates. An assessment of self-prescribing pattern relative to their peers was also conducted.
Qualitative interviews identified themes such as clinical factors (patient characteristics, symptom duration, and severity), nonclinical factors (physician-patient relationship, concern for patient satisfaction, preference and expectation, time pressure), desire to follow evidence-based medicine, and concern for adverse effects to influence prescribing. In the survey, reported concern regarding antibiotic side effects and the desire to practice evidence-based medicine were associated with lower prescribing rates whereas reported concern for patient satisfaction and patient demand were associated with high prescribing rates. High prescribers were generally unaware of their high prescribing status.
Physicians report that nonclinical factors frequently influence their decision to prescribe antibiotics for URTI. Physician concerns regarding antibiotic side effects and patient satisfaction are important factors in the decision-making process. Changes in the health system addressing both physicians and patients may be necessary to attain desired prescribing levels.