Doctors performing general practitioner surgery who also have training in complementary and alternative medicines appear to be less likely to prescribe antibiotics to patients and may hold the key to reducing over-prescribing of these drugs.
Inappropriate and over-use of antibiotics leading to antimicrobial resistance are growing problems for international public health, but reductions in antibiotic use have been shown to be associated with a reduction in some resistance.
General practitioner surgery varies in its prescribing behavior due to various factors including different views on medicalization, different guidelines between countries, and use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) integrated in their daily practice, also known as integrative medicine (IM).
The UK, German and Dutch Lecturers, led by the University of Bristol, therefore, set out to examine what differences there might be in antibiotic prescription rates between conventional GP surgeries and those with GPs who had been trained in integrative medicine using NHS Digital monthly prescribing data for 2016.
Data from 7,274 GP surgeries were studied and compared with nine practices that had GPs who had training in integrative medicine, at the prescribing of antibiotics, as well as prescribing of these drugs for respiratory tract infections and urinary tract infections.
Analysis showed that practices that GPs with additional training in IM had significantly lower antibiotic prescribing rates than those with conventional GPs. Prescribing antibiotics for patients with respiratory tract infections was also noticeably less in practice with IM-knowledgeable GPs.
There were no differences between the two types of practice when it came to levels of antibiotic prescribing to patients with urinary tract infections. The authors acknowledged that their results were limited by the lack of data on a number of consultations, individual GP characteristics, individual deprivation scores and continuum of care.
Also, the pool of practices with GPs trained in IM was small because of the IM / CAM's accessibility within the NHS in general practice in England is very limited and IM / CAM provision is presently almost exclusively private in the UK.
Nevertheless, the authors said that the difference was in antibiotic prescribing rates at practices with GPs trained in IM warranted further study. The lower antibiotic prescription rates of practices with GPs trained in IM were in line with current national guidance aimed at reducing antibiotic usage and antimicrobial resistance, they said.
They argued, therefore, that these practices might be more compliant with this guidance, but the differences could also be due to other possibilities such as:
1. Patients who consulted practices with GPs trained in IM were less keen on getting antibiotics.
2. Practices with GPs trained in IM had other avenues to offer to patients than antibiotics.
The authors said: "For the majority of respiratory tract infections , it is recommended that antibiotics should be avoided or delayed so that this is an area where the desired reduction in prescribing could take place."
They concluded: "Additional treatment strategies for common primary care infections used by practices with GPs trained in IM should be explored to see if they could be used to assist in the fight against antimicrobial resistance."