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J Antimicrob Chemother. 2018 Feb 1;73(suppl_2):ii27-ii35. doi: 10.1093/jac/dkx501.

Explaining variation in antibiotic prescribing between general practices in the UK.

Author information

Modelling and Economics Unit, National Infection Service, Public Health England, London NW9 5EQ, UK.
PharmacoTherapy, -Epidemiology & -Economics, Department of Pharmacy, University of Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands.
MRC Centre for Outbreak Analysis and Modelling, Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Imperial College School of Public Health, London, UK.



Primary care practices in England differ in antibiotic prescribing rates, and, anecdotally, prescribers justify high prescribing rates based on their individual case mix. The aim of this paper was to explore to what extent factors such as patient comorbidities explain this variation in antibiotic prescribing.


Primary care consultation and prescribing data recorded in The Health Improvement Network (THIN) database in 2013 were used. Boosted regression trees (BRTs) and negative binomial regression (NBR) models were used to evaluate associations between predictors and antibiotic prescribing rates. The following variables were considered as potential predictors: various infection-related consultation rates, proportions of patients with comorbidities, proportion of patients with inhaled/systemic corticosteroids or immunosuppressive drugs, and demographic traits.


The median antibiotic prescribing rate was 65.6 (IQR 57.4-74.0) per 100 registered patients among 348 English practices. In the BRT model, consultation rates had the largest total relative influence on antibiotic prescribing rate (53.5%), followed by steroid and immunosuppressive drugs (31.6%) and comorbidities (12.2%). Only 21% of the deviance could be explained by an NBR model considering only comorbidities and age and gender, whereas 57% of the deviance could be explained by the model considering all variables.


The majority of practice-level variation in antibiotic prescribing cannot be explained by variation in prevalence of comorbidities. Factors such as high consultation rates for respiratory tract infections and high prescribing rates for corticosteroids could explain much of the variation, and as such may be considered in determining a practice's potential to reduce prescribing.

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