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Parents overestimate benefits of antibiotics for respiratory infections by five to 10 times

New research by Bond University’s Centre for Research in Evidence-Based Practice (CREBP) has found that parents grossly overestimate the benefit of antibiotics in reducing the duration of acute respiratory infections in their children.

The study, published today (Tuesday, 14 March) in respected American journal Annals of Family Medicine, found most parents believed antibiotics provided substantial benefits for common paediatric respiratory infections, despite strong evidence that they offered only marginal improvements.

The research investigated the expectations and experiences of 401 parents of children aged one to 12 years, about using antibiotics for common acute respiratory infections, such as middle ear infection, sore throat and cough.

Bond University Professor of Clinical Epidemiology, Professor Tammy Hoffmann, who is the article’s senior author, said antibiotics were being prescribed too often for acute respiratory infections, with the findings revealing a gap between expectations and actual benefits.

"Parents believed they were helping their children by using antibiotics. Their estimates of how much antibiotics can help were overly optimistic," she said.

"In the instance of middle ear infection, 92 per cent of parents believed antibiotics provided benefits.

"On average, parents estimated that taking antibiotics reduces the duration of the illness by three days. However, from many clinical trials we know the actual average reduction in illness duration is about half a day."

Professor Hoffman said the study was the first that quantified parents’ beliefs about benefits and may help to explain why parents often requested antibiotics.

"While 78 per cent of parents recognised that antibiotics may cause harm, there were many inaccuracies in what harms they think can occur and confusion about what 'antibiotic resistance' actually is," she said.

"Less than half of the parents, just 44 per cent, recalled discussing benefits, harms and the option of forgoing antibiotic use with their clinician, during their last visit.

"Many of the parents, 75 per cent, indicated they wanted more involvement in future decisions regarding antibiotic use for their children."

Professor Hoffmann says the study highlights the opportunity for improving GP consultations by adopting shared decision making so that GPs and patients discuss the benefits and harms of taking and not taking antibiotics and together decide what’s best for each patient.

"Collaborative decision making between GPs and their patients also provides the opportunity to discuss and address parents’ overoptimistic expectations of antibiotics," she said.

To access the full report in The Annals of Family Medicine, visit

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