A GP-led patient survey reveals over half (53%) of patients in the UK go to see a doctor with the intention of being prescribed antibiotics, despite almost a quarter (23%) not knowing what antibiotics are intended to treat.
A group of NHS doctors responsible for founding GPDQ, the doctor on demand app that enables patients to book and see a GP in person or online, have performed a study involving 200 patients who have recently seen a GP for symptoms related to an uncomplicated upper respiratory illness.
The study is published in light of recent findings from the AMR Review that shows the death toll could be a staggering one person every few seconds, with an estimated 10 million deaths by 2050, if antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is not tackled now.
Out of the patients involved, 53 percent said they would only deem the appointment a success if they were prescribed antibiotics, despite 25 percent having a virus, which cannot be treated with antibiotics.
The study revealed that 36 percent of those keen to be prescribed antibiotics had no idea about any of the side effects associated with taking antibiotics. The patients who claimed they were familiar with the side effects listed the following side effects:
The study revealed a worrying lack of knowledge amongst male patients compared to female patients, with 28 percent of males claiming that antibiotics could treat a virus, compared to just 14 percent of female patients who said the same.
Dr Anshu Bhagat, NHS GP and founder of GPDQ explains why more education is needed to stop the misuse of antibiotics, and the growing issue of antimicrobial resistance:
“Patients are not expected to know the difference between a viral and bacterial infection or illness, that’s our job as a GP, to diagnose, but what patients would benefit from knowing is exactly what antibiotics can treat, and the side effects of taking antibiotics unnecessarily. As a profession we do have a responsibility to educate the public on how to seek the correct advice for certain conditions, including self-limiting illnesses, safely – this includes visiting pharmacies before booking a GP appointment.
“One of the main reasons why patients are confused about what antibiotics can treat is because of their anti-inflammatory benefits. If someone has a viral infection and they take antibiotics, they will feel better, because the inflamed area, let’s say a sore throat, will be alleviated. It’s only natural for the patient to think they made the right decision to take antibiotics and will opt to take them again should the symptoms return. The reality is that the patient’s symptoms would have improved over time, but instead they have put themselves at risk of the side effects that come with taking antibiotics.
“As the work/life balance becomes even trickier to manage, patients are requesting antibiotics as soon as they start to experience symptoms, to avoid taking time off work, too. This is dangerous territory as often the illness may not require antibiotics, and as a result we are contributing to antimicrobial resistance, which makes antibiotics less effective in the long-run.”
GPDQ has recently started to use the FebriDx test – a simple finger blood sample test that identifies within minutes if a respiratory infection is viral or bacterial, and therefore if it can be treated with antibiotics if necessary.
Robert Sambursky, President of RPS Diagnostics, the creator of the FebriDx test commented on the research:
“Acute respiratory infections (ARIs) account for nearly 60 percent of all antibiotic prescribing in General Practice with up to 25 percent of England and Wales population visiting their GP each year for an ARI. The signs and symptoms of viral and bacterial ARI have a substantial overlap making it very difficult for a GP to differentiate accurately and be confident in their decision. Even when diagnostic confidence is high, it is sometimes challenging for patients to accept the treatment plan without tangible evidence provided by a rapid test.
“A wrong diagnosis can be life-threatening, so often a GP will prescribe antibiotics to eliminate any potential risks. FebriDx was developed to provide a cost-effective solution that reduces clinical doubt and ensures that antibiotics are only prescribed when absolutely necessary.”
Each FebriDx tests costs £12.75+ VAT and takes 10 minutes to complete. A GP is not required to perform the test.
The GP study and all images are credited to GPDQ.