Long-term outcomes of an educational intervention to reduce antibiotic prescribing for childhood upper respiratory tract infections in rural China: Follow-up of a cluster-randomised controlled trial
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BACKGROUND: Inappropriate antibiotic prescribing causes widespread serious health problems. To reduce prescribing of antibiotics in Chinese primary care to children with upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs), we developed an intervention comprising clinical guidelines, monthly prescribing review meetings, doctor-patient communication skills training, and education materials for caregivers. We previously evaluated our intervention using an unblinded cluster-randomised controlled trial (cRCT) in 25 primary care facilities across two rural counties. When our trial ended at the 6-month follow-up period, we found that the intervention had reduced antibiotic prescribing for childhood URTIs by 29 percentage points (pp) (95% CI -42 to -16). METHODS AND FINDINGS: In this long-term follow-up study, we collected our trial outcomes from the one county (14 facilities and 1:1 cluster randomisation ratio) that had electronic records available 12 months after the trial ended, at the 18-month follow-up period. Our primary outcome was the antibiotic prescription rate (APR)-the percentage of outpatient prescriptions containing any antibiotic(s) for children aged 2 to 14 years who had a primary diagnosis of a URTI and had no other illness requiring antibiotics. We also conducted 15 in-depth interviews to understand how interventions were sustained. In intervention facilities, the APR was 84% (1,171 out of 1,400) at baseline, 37% (515 out of 1,380) at 6 months, and 54% (2,748 out of 5,084) at 18 months, and in control facilities, it was 76% (1,063 out of 1,400), 77% (1,084 out of 1,400), and 75% (2,772 out of 3,685), respectively. After adjusting for patient and prescribing doctor covariates, compared to the baseline intervention-control difference, the difference at 6 months represented a 6-month intervention-arm reduction in the APR of -49 pp (95% CI -63 to -35; P < 0.0001), and compared to the baseline difference, the difference at 18 months represented an 18-month intervention-arm reduction in the APR of -36 pp (95% CI -55 to -17; P < 0.0001). Compared to the 6-month intervention-control difference, the difference at 18 months represented no change in the APR: 13 pp (95% CI -7 to 33; P = 0.21). Factors reported to sustain reductions in antibiotic prescribing included doctors' improved knowledge and communication skills and focused prescription review meetings, whereas lack of supervision and monitoring may be associated with relapse. Key limitations were not including all clusters from the trial and not collecting returned visits or sepsis cases. CONCLUSIONS: Our intervention was associated with sustained and substantial reductions in antibiotic prescribing at the end of the intervention period and 12 months later. Our intervention may be adapted to similar resource-poor settings. TRIAL REGISTRATION: ISRCTN registry ISRCTN14340536.
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