Antibiotic prescribing in general medical and surgical specialties: a prospective cohort study.

Background

Qualitative work has described the differences in prescribing practice across medical and surgical specialties. This study aimed to understand if specialty impacts quantitative measures of prescribing practice.

Methods

We prospectively analysed the antibiotic prescribing across general medical and surgical teams for acutely admitted patients. Over a 12-month period (June 2016 – May 2017) 659 patients (362 medical, 297 surgical) were followed for the duration of their hospital stay. Antibiotic prescribing across these cohorts was assessed using Chi-squared or Wilcoxon rank-sum, depending on normality of data. The t-test was used to compare age and length of stay. A logistic regression model was used to predict escalation of antibiotic therapy.

Results

Surgical patients were younger (p < 0.001) with lower Charlson Comorbidity Index scores (p < 0.001). Antibiotics were prescribed for 45% (162/362) medical and 55% (164/297) surgical patients. Microbiological results were available for 26% (42/164) medical and 29% (48/162) surgical patients, of which 55% (23/42) and 48% (23/48) were positive respectively. There was no difference in the spectrum of antibiotics prescribed between surgery and medicine (p = 0.507). In surgery antibiotics were 1) prescribed more frequently (p = 0.001); 2) for longer (p = 0.016); 3) more likely to be escalated (p = 0.004); 4) less likely to be compliant with local policy (p < 0.001) than medicine.

Conclusions

Across both specialties, microbiology investigation results are not adequately used to diagnose infections and optimise their management. There is significant variation in antibiotic decision-making (including escalation patterns) between general surgical and medical teams. Antibiotic stewardship interventions targeting surgical specialties need to go beyond surgical prophylaxis. It is critical to focus on of review the patients initiated on therapeutic antibiotics in surgical specialties to ensure that escalation and continuation of therapy is justified.