Last updated: 06.08.13

E-learning 'effective' in reducing antibiotic prescribing rates

Online training about antibiotics for clinicians could dramatically reduce prescribing rates for acute respiratory tract infections.

This is the suggestion of a new study carried out at the University of Southampton, which revealed that trialling an internet-based learning programme among healthcare workers slashed antibiotics prescriptions by as much as 62 per cent.

According to Paul Little, professor of primary care research at the institution, the high number of doctors prescribing the medication is driving antibiotic resistance, one of the most serious public health dangers facing people as it means they are at risk of falling ill to untreatable infections.

He said training has been found to have a positive effect on lowering prescription rates, but above all it is the way this learning is delivered that is limiting its impact in everyday practice.

"Novel techniques are therefore needed to lead changes at a national and international level. Internet training has the advantage that it can be disseminated widely at a low cost and does not need much resource," the professor remarked.

For the study, which was backed by the National Institute for Health Research Clinical Research Network in England, participating clinicians were required to trial one of four practices - usual care, internet-based training in enhanced communication skills, online learning to use a C-reactive protein (CRP) test and combined training.

Individuals who were trained using the CRP test saw their antibiotic prescribing rates drop by 47 per cent, while those who received enhanced communications skills training reduced them by 32 per cent. 

Prescribing rates also decreased for upper respiratory tract infections like influenza, colds and throat and sinus infections.

Professor Little remarked: "These interventions have shown that providing interactive training methods using the internet to modify antibiotic prescribing is remarkably effective."

This comes after a recent report published by journalist Camilla Cavendish called for improved training for healthcare assistants and criticised the fact there is no minimum standard of care in place for these workers before they can interact with patients unsupervised.