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Reducing expectations for antibiotics in primary care: a randomised experiment to test the response to fear-based messages about antimicrobial resistance

Roope, L., Tonkin-Crine, S., Herd, N., Michie, S., Pouwels, K., Castro-Sanchez, E. ORCID: 0000-0002-3351-9496, Sallis, A., Hopkins, S., Robotham, J. V., Crook, D. W., Peto, T., Peters, M., Butler, C., Walker, A. and Wordsworth, S. (2020). Reducing expectations for antibiotics in primary care: a randomised experiment to test the response to fear-based messages about antimicrobial resistance. BMC Medicine, 18(1), p. 110. doi: 10.1186/s12916-020-01553-6

Abstract

Background
To reduce inappropriate antibiotic use, public health campaigns often provide fear-based information about antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Meta-analyses have found that fear-based campaigns in other contexts are likely to be ineffective unless respondents feel confident they can carry out the recommended behaviour (‘self-efficacy’). This study aimed to test the likely impact of fear-based messages, with and without empowering self-efficacy elements, on patient consultations/antibiotic requests for influenza-like illnesses, using a randomised design.

Methods
We hypothesised that fear-based messages containing empowering information about self-management without antibiotics would be more effective than fear alone, particularly in a pre-specified subgroup with low AMR awareness. Four thousand respondents from an online panel, representative of UK adults, were randomised to receive three different messages about antibiotic use and AMR, designed to induce fear about AMR to varying degrees. Two messages (one ‘strong-fear’, one ‘mild-fear’) also contained empowering information regarding influenza-like symptoms being easily self-managed without antibiotics. The main outcome measures were self-reported effect of information on likelihood of visiting a doctor and requesting antibiotics, for influenza-like illness, analysed separately according to whether or not the AMR information was ‘very/somewhat new’ to respondents, pre-specified based on a previous (non-randomised) survey.

Results
The ‘fear-only’ message was ‘very/somewhat new’ to 285/1000 (28.5%) respondents, ‘mild-fear-plus-empowerment’ to 336/1500 (22.4%), and ‘strong-fear-plus-empowerment’ to 388/1500 (25.9%) (p = 0.002). Of those for whom the respective information was ‘very/somewhat new’, only those given the ‘strong-fear-plus-empowerment’ message said they would be less likely to request antibiotics if they visited a doctor for an influenza-like illness (p < 0.0001; 182/388 (46.9%) ‘much less likely’/‘less likely’, versus 116/336 (34.5%) with ‘mild-fear-plus-empowerment’ versus 85/285 (29.8%) with ‘fear-alone’). Those for whom the respective information was not ‘very/somewhat new’ said they would be less likely to request antibiotics for influenza-like illness (p < 0.0001) across all messages (interaction p < 0.0001 versus ‘very/somewhat new’ subgroup). The three messages had analogous self-reported effects on likelihood of visiting a doctor and in subgroups defined by believing antibiotics would ‘definitely/probably’ help an influenza-like illness. Results were reproduced in an independent randomised survey (additional 4000 adults).

Conclusions
Fear could be effective in public campaigns to reduce inappropriate antibiotic use, but should be combined with messages empowering patients to self-manage symptoms effectively without antibiotics.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.
Publisher Keywords: Inappropriate antibiotic use, Fear messages about antimicrobial resistance, Public campaigns
Subjects: Q Science > QR Microbiology
R Medicine > RM Therapeutics. Pharmacology
R Medicine > RT Nursing
Departments: School of Health Sciences > Nursing
Date Deposited: 27 Oct 2020 15:35
URI: https://openaccess.city.ac.uk/id/eprint/25150
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