Background:Seeing one's practice as a high antibiotic prescriber compared to general practices with similar patient populations can be one of the best motivators for change. Current comparisons are based on age-sex weighting of the practice population for expected prescribing rates (STAR-PU). Here, we investigate whether there is a need to additionally account for further potentially legitimate medical reasons for higher antibiotic prescribing. Methods:Publicly available data from 7376 general practices in England between April 2014 and March 2015 were used. We built two different negative binomial regression models to compare observed versus expected antibiotic dispensing levels per practice: one including comorbidities as covariates and another with the addition of smoking prevalence and deprivation. We compared the ranking of practices in terms of items prescribed per STAR-PU according to i) conventional STAR-PU methodology, ii) observed vs expected prescribing levels using the comorbidity model, and iii) observed vs expected prescribing levels using the full model. Findings:The median number of antibiotic items prescribed per practice per STAR-PU was 1.09 (25th-75th percentile, 0.92-1.25). 1133 practices (76.8% of 1476) were consistently identified as being in the top 20% of high antibiotic prescribers. However, some practices that would be classified as high prescribers using the current STAR-PU methodology would not be classified as high prescribers if comorbidity was accounted for (n = 269, 18.2%) and if additionally smoking prevalence and deprivation were accounted for (n = 312, 21.1%). Interpretation:Current age-sex weighted comparisons of antibiotic prescribing rates in England are fair for many, but not all practices. This new metric that accounts for legitimate medical reasons for higher antibiotic prescribing may have more credibility among general practitioners and, thus, more likely to be acted upon. Outstanding Questions:Findings of this study indicate that the antibiotic prescribing metric by which practices are measured (and need to implement interventions determined) may be inadequate, and therefore raises the question of how they should be measured. Substantial variation between practices remains after accounting for comorbidities, deprivation and smoking. There is a need for a better understanding of why such variation remains and, more importantly, what can be done to reduce it. While antibiotics are more frequently indicated in patients with comorbidities, it is unclear to what extent antibiotic prescribing can be lowered among that patient population and how this could be achieved.
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Zeeman Institute, Mathematics Institute, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL, UK.