Patient Risk-Benefit Thresholds for Antibiotic Use in Dermatologic Surgery Vary Widely

Doug Brunk

September 21, 2021

More than one-quarter of patients undergoing dermatologic surgery said they would prefer not to take an oral antibiotic, even if it could eliminate the risk of a surgical-site infection (SSI) and had negligible side effects, in a prospective multicenter study.

In addition, a similar proportion of patients preferred to take an antibiotic if there was no SSI reduction and a high risk of adverse events.

Those are two key findings from the study aimed at understanding patient preferences for prophylactic oral antibiotic use following dermatologic surgery, which was published in Dermatologic Surgery.

"Patient risk-benefit thresholds for using antibiotics vary considerably," the study's corresponding author, Jeremy R. Etzkorn, MD, MS, of the department of dermatology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, told this news organization. "Physicians should appreciate and consider the variation between patients before deciding to send in a prescription after skin surgery."

To investigate patient preferences about taking antibiotics to prevent SSI relative to antibiotic efficacy and antibiotic-associated adverse drug reactions, Etzkorn and colleagues at six U.S. medical centers prospectively administered a web-based survey and discrete choice experiment to 388 adults including dermatologic surgery patients and their family members, as well as health care workers (defined as dermatologic surgery patients who work in health care, individuals who work in health care and are accompanying patients to their surgery, or staff in the dermatology clinic.) "A lot has been published about physician preferences and practice patterns with respect to antibiotic prescribing after dermatologic surgery," Etzkorn noted. "This is the first study to evaluate patient preferences in a rigorous way."

He and his coinvestigators used a technique from marketing and product research (conjoint analysis/discrete choice experiments) to quantify what patients think about using antibiotics and what trade-offs they are – or are not – willing to make to reduce their risk of infection.

Nearly half of the respondents (47%) were patients, 29% were family members of patients, 19% were health care workers, and the rest were described as patient caregivers or "other." More than half (59%) were female, the mean age at surgery was 59 years, and 69% had college or postgraduate degrees.

More than half of respondents (55%) would choose to take an antibiotic if it reduced the SSI rate from 5% to 2.5% and if the risk of adverse drug reactions was low (defined as a 1% risk gastrointestinal upset, 0.5% risk itchy skin rash, and 0.01% risk ED visit). Even if an antibiotic could eliminate SSI risk entirely and had a low adverse drug reaction profile, 27% of respondents preferred not to take prophylactic oral antibiotics.

A subgroup analysis revealed that only 21% of health care workers would choose a moderate efficacy antibiotic (2.5% SSI risk) with a high adverse effect profile, compared with 41% of those who do not work in health care. Respondent age also drove treatment choice. For example, only 33% of respondents younger than age 65 would choose a moderate efficacy antibiotic (2.5% SSI risk) with a high adverse effect profile, compared with 45% of those aged 65 years and older.

"We knew patients would likely trade some antibiotic efficacy for some side effects, just as one would trade price for features when shopping for a car," Etzkorn said. "We were shocked to see that over a quarter – 27% – of respondents preferred to not take antibiotics even if they were able to prevent all infections and had minimal side effects."

"It's interesting that between 27% [and] 55% of patients preferred no operative antibiotic prophylaxis despite a theoretical 100% cure rate for surgical-site infections," said Lawrence J. Green, MD, clinical professor of dermatology at George Washington University, Washington, who was asked to comment on the study results.

"I think this mirrors dermatologist's preferences, as a majority also prefer not to prescribe postoperative antibiotic therapy, unless operating in an area of or a patient with a high risk for infection. It would also be interesting to see if a less educated population would also have similar preferences."

Etzkorn acknowledged certain limitations of the study, including that while it evaluated patient reported preferences, it did not include all possible risks and benefits, and "it does not measure actual patient behaviors."

The researchers reported having no relevant financial disclosures. Etzkorn disclosed that he serves as a data safety monitoring board member for a clinical trial of Replimmune. Green disclosed that he is a speaker, consultant, or investigator for numerous pharmaceutical companies.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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