Can private provision of primary care contribute to the spread of antibiotic resistance? A study of antibiotic prescription in Sweden
Background - Growing rates of antibiotic resistance, caused by increasing antibiotic use, pose a threat by making antibiotics less effective in treating infections.
Objective - We aimed to study whether physicians working at privately and publicly owned health centres differed in the likelihood of prescribing antibiotics and choosing broad-spectrum over narrow-spectrum antibiotics.
Methods - To estimate the effect of ownership on the probability of a prescribed drug being an antibiotic, we analysed all 4.5 million prescriptions issued from 2011 to 2015 at primary health centres in Västerbotten, Sweden. We controlled for patient age, sex, number of prescriptions per patient, and month of prescription, and used a maximum likelihood logit estimator. We then analysed how ownership affected the likelihood of a prescribed antibiotic being broad spectrum. We also used aggregated data to estimate the impact of the number of private health centres on the number of antibiotic prescriptions per inhabitant and the proportion of broad-spectrum antibiotics.
Results - Holding other factors constant, private physicians were 6% more likely to prescribe antibiotics and 9% more likely to choose broad-spectrum antibiotics. An increase by one additional private health centre was positively associated with an increase in the number of antibiotic prescriptions per inhabitant and a higher proportion, although not significant, of broad-spectrum antibiotic prescriptions.
Conclusion - Our findings suggest that private physicians prescribe more antibiotics, especially broad-spectrum antibiotics, than public physicians. Therefore, it is crucial to provide health centres with incentives to follow guidelines for antibiotic prescription, especially when the level of private provision of primary healthcare is high.