Public would obey major changes to antibiotic advice, research shows

Antibiotic pills

Researchers found the UK public would follow this changing advice about antibiotic use.

The public would comply with major changes to medical advice – but would then be less likely to follow other new guidelines in the future, research shows.

High levels of deference towards doctors means most people would obey reformed advice about taking antibiotics. However, the study suggests reforms to public health policy should be made sparingly as this risks undermining future compliance.

The research also shows people who think they know better than scientists and medics are less likely to follow new medical guidelines, and this group would benefit from health messages being communicated in a different way.

Academics from the University of Exeter, the University of Utah, and Stony Brook University ran an experiment to test if people would be willing to change the way they take antibiotics – stopping when they feel better instead of the long-standing advice to complete a full course. Recently experts have argued for this revision as there is little evidence taking a full pack prevents bacteria from developing resistance to antibiotics. This advice is not a current medical recommendation. The aim of the study was not to advocate for or against any position, but to understand how the public may respond to a possible dramatic shift in official health advice.

A total 1,263 people took part in the experiment, which was conducted online. Half were given a message that patients should complete their course no matter what. The other half were given a message that patients should stop treatment when they feel better.

Researchers found the UK public would follow this changing advice about antibiotic use. Compared to the standard “complete the course” message, telling people to stop early on average shifted personal beliefs (a shift of 16%) and behavioural intent (a shift of 19%) in the intended direction towards this instruction. This was particularly the case if they had more respect for doctors. The change in advice had no effect on perceived credibility of experts.

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