Doctors and patients are turning to antibiotics too quickly and could benefit more from a “wait and see” approach, according to researchers from the University of Queensland.
The Faculty of Medicine’s Primary Care Clinical Unit found less than a third of patients used antibiotics if they were advised to wait up to 48 hours to see if their symptoms resolved.
Researches reviewed data from more than 3500 people with acute respiratory infections, including otitis media (ear infections), sore throats, coughs and colds.
Dr Geoffrey Spurling said “delayed prescribing” could work for doctors who were unsure of whether antibiotics were needed.
“Our review found only minimal impacts on clinical outcomes or patient satisfaction from this approach for most respiratory complaints compared with prescribing antibiotics immediately,” he said.
“There was a small increase in patient satisfaction for ‘delayed prescribing’ compared to not prescribing antibiotics.
“There was no difference found in the very low rates of serious complications or missed treatment of severe infections.”
Antibiotics are overprescribed in Australia up to nine times more than the recommended amount, prompting concerns it could lead to a flurry of antibiotic-resistant conditions.
Delaying prescription and waiting to see if symptoms clear could lead to less antibiotic resistance in future and would save millions in medication costs for patients.
“Doctors may have been uncertain about whether delayed prescribing would make much of a difference,” he said.
“This review shows that the ‘wait and see’ strategy results in 31 per cent antibiotic use, compared to 93 per cent for immediate antibiotics.
“The evidence indicates that delayed prescribing is an effective strategy for reducing antibiotic use and now we need to get this message out to the medical community.
“Individual GPs can feel confident implementing this strategy as a way of treating patients with respiratory tract infections if they are uncomfortable with not prescribing antibiotics.”