Physicians frequently prescribe antimicrobials inappropriately, leading to an increase in the rate of resistance, which in turn, harms patients. To better understand why physicians prescribe specific antimicrobials in particular cases, the authors investigated the decision-making processes underlying physicians’ antimicrobial choice (i.e., their antimicrobial reasoning).
Applying a clinical reasoning framework, the authors conducted semi-structured, qualitative interviews with a purposive sample of attending physicians in infectious diseases and hospital medicine at 2 hospitals in fall 2018. An interviewer asked participants to describe how they would choose which antimicrobial to prescribe in 3 clinical vignettes, to recall how they chose an antimicrobial in an example from their own practice, and to indicate their steps in antimicrobial selection generally. The authors identified steps and factors in antimicrobial reasoning through thematic analysis of interviews and the note cards that participants used to delineate their general antimicrobial reasoning processes.
Sixteen participants described 3 steps in the antimicrobial reasoning process: naming the syndrome, delineating pathogens, and selecting the antimicrobial (therapy script). They mentioned 25 different factors in their reasoning processes, which the authors grouped into 4 areas: preexisting patient characteristics, current case features, provider and health care system factors, and treatment principles. Participants used antimicrobial (therapy) scripts that included 14 different drug characteristics. The authors present the steps and factors in a framework for antimicrobial reasoning.
Through this exploratory study, the authors identified steps and factors involved in physicians’ antimicrobial reasoning process, as well as the content of their antimicrobial (therapy) scripts. They organized all these findings into a framework for antimicrobial decision making. This information may ultimately be adapted into educational tools to improve antimicrobial prescribing across the spectrum of learners and practicing physicians.