Research Shows Public Would Obey Major Changes to Antibiotic Advice

The study found that people who think they know more than their health care professionals are less likely to follow new medical guidelines, and this group would benefit from health messages being communicated in a different way.

A new study suggests that reforms to public health policy should be made sparingly because the risks undermine future compliance and that the public would comply with major changes to medical advice, according to researchers at the University of Exeter.

The study found that people who think they know more than their health care professionals are less likely to follow new medical guidelines, and this group would benefit from health messages being communicated in a different way, according to a press release.

An experiment was conducted by researchers from the University of Exeter, the University of Utah, and Stony Brook University to test whether people would be willing to change the way they take antibiotics, meaning to stop when they feel better instead of the long-standing advice to complete a full course. The objective of the study was to understand how the public may respond to a possible dramatic shift in official health advice.

A total of 1263 individuals participated in the online study. Half of the participants were given a message that patients should complete their treatment course no matter what, while the other half were given a message that patients should stop treatment when they feel better.

The findings showed that compared with the standard “complete the course” message, telling the public to stop early on average shifted personal beliefs by 16% and behavioral intent by 19%, according to the study authors. The change in advice had no effect on the credibility of the health care experts.

Participants rated their own medical knowledge relative to both scientists and physicians, and the study found that participants with a high degree of deference to experts in these ratings were more likely to follow the new advice, according to the study authors. Those who did not have much respect for experts were less likely to update factual beliefs about antibiotics and less likely to take up new recommendations.

“Our research shows changes to medical advice need to be made sparingly, something the medical profession already aims to do. We have found people will take new instructions on board, despite their previous beliefs, but they also don’t like uncertainty,” said lead study author Ben Lyons, MD, lead study author in a press release. “As a result, some messages may need to be tailored to better reach this group, as they won’t be receptive to advice which only suggest they defer to authority.”

According to the study authors, 64% of the participants correctly agreed that antibiotics can kill bacteria before taking part in the study; however, 38% incorrectly agreed that they can kill viruses. In addition, 20% incorrectly agreed that they work on most coughs and colds. Concern about antibacterial resistance was high, with 67.5% agreeing that they are worried about this issue and 20.5% strongly agreeing.

REFERENCE

Public would obey major changes to antibiotic advice, research shows. University of Exeter. https://www.exeter.ac.uk/news/research/title_794564_en.html. Published May 6, 2020. Accessed May 8, 2020.