Managing patients who expect antibiotic treatment for RTIs

The likelihood of a patient receiving an antibiotic increases 10-fold when GPs think that the patient expects one.1

If a patient attends a consultation expecting a prescription for an antibiotic when one is not appropriate, use communication strategies to manage the patient's beliefs and expectations.

Evidence from general practice shows that good communication influences patient satisfaction more than a prescription for an antibiotic.1-3

Communication strategies you can use to manage patient beliefs and expectations on antibiotics:

Explain that many common RTIs are self-limiting. Provide realistic advice about the duration of various self-limiting RTIs — e.g. common cold, 1.5 weeks; acute otitis media, 4 days; acute sore throat/tonsillitis, 1 week.4

Explain why antibiotics are rarely needed:

  • ear, nose, throat, sinus and chest infections are commonly caused by viruses
  • self-limiting bacterial infections rarely develop complications.4

Encourage self-management of symptoms:

Explain the importance of immunisation for vaccine-preventable RTIs (e.g. influenza and pneumonia).