New Survey Suggests Probiotics Could be the Key to Encouraging More Patients to Complete a Course of Antibiotics

Better education is key to reduce “frightening” levels of drug wastage

A study of UK doctors carried out by the PCSG (Primary Care Society for Gastroenterology) to coincide with European Antibiotic Awareness Day (18 November 2013) suggests that patients who are given information about the impact of antibiotics on the gut and the option of probiotics before being prescribed antibiotics are far more likely to complete the full course.

Probiotics are increasingly recognized as giving a helping hand to the gut microbiota—the colonies of friendly bacteria that we all have inside us—and that can be disrupted by taking antibiotics.

Doctors quizzed in the survey say that at least half of patients who are told about the workings of gut microbiota and how probiotics may help are likely to complete a course of antibiotics, compared with just a third of patients who are not given this information by their GPs.

The survey also showed that, like their patients, doctors are also becoming more aware of the advantages of probiotics. A third now consider the possible impact of antibiotics on gut microbiota when writing prescriptions.

Over six in every 100 people are prescribed at least one course of antibiotics every year. Yet as many as 60 percent give up on them halfway through, according to many of the doctors quizzed in the survey.

Just five out of  100 doctors surveyed were optimistic that three-quarters of their patients would finish their medicine. Perhaps more unnerving still, GPs thought 80 percent compliance is the best it gets. No GP believed that more than this figure would keep on taking the medicine.

On a national scale, that could add up to as many as two million courses of antibiotics never being completed, leading to massive waste and the growing problem of antibiotic resistance.

“If talking to patients about the benefits of probiotics will encourage them to finish their courses of antibiotics, it has to be good news,” says Dr Patricia McNair, a PCSG member and GP from Surrey. “This research points to the importance of patient knowledge and education in helping to deal with what is likely to become one of the biggest health issues of our time.”