Respiratory tract infections (RTIs) account for a large part of antibiotic prescriptions in primary care. However, guidelines advise restrictive antibiotic prescribing for RTIs. Only in certain circumstances, depending on, e.g., comorbidity, are antibiotics indicated. Most studies on guideline adherence do not account for this. We aimed to assess guideline adherence for antibiotic prescribing for RTIs as well as its variation between general practices (GPs), accounting for patient characteristics. We used data from electronic health records of GPs in the Netherlands. We selected patients who consulted their GP for acute cough, rhinitis, rhinosinusitis or sore throat in 2014. For each disease episode we assessed whether, according to the GP guideline, there was an indication for antibiotics, using the patient’s sociodemographic characteristics, comorbidity and co-medication. We assessed antibiotic prescribing for episodes with no or an unsure indication according to the guidelines. We analysed 248,896 episodes. Diagnoses with high rates of antibiotic prescribing when there was no indication include acute tonsillitis (57%), strep throat (56%), acute bronchitis (51%) and acute sinusitis (48%). Prescribing rates vary greatly between diagnoses and practices. Reduction of inappropriate antibiotic prescribing remains a key target to tackle antimicrobial resistance. Insight into reasons for guideline non-adherence may guide successful implementation of the variety of interventions already available for GPs and patients.
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