Inappropriate Antibiotic Allergy Documentation in Health Records: A Qualitative Study on Family Physicians' and Pharmacists' Experiences

Kitty De Clercq, Jochen W. L. Cals, Eefje G. P. M. de Bont*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


PURPOSE It is hypothesized that 90% of antibiotic allergies documented in patients' health records are not actual, potentially life threatening, type I allergies mediated by IgE. This distinction is important because such documentation increases antibiotic resistance, as more second-choice and broad-spectrum antibiotics are then used. Evidence is lacking regarding causes of this inappropriate documentation. To develop interventions aimed at improving documentation, we explored experiences of family physicians and pharmacists in this area.

METHODS We conducted a qualitative study among family physicians and pharmacists using focus group discussions, based on purposeful sampling and a naturalistic approach. Discussions were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim, and analyzed in duplicate by means of constant comparative technique.

RESULTS We conducted 4 focus group discussions among 34 family physicians and 10 pharmacists, from which 3 main themes emerged: (1) magnitude and awareness of the problem of inappropriate antibiotic allergy documentation, (2) origin of the problem, and (3) approaches for addressing the problem. Participants noted that the magnitude of contamination of medical files with inappropriate documentation leads to skepticism about current documentation. Major hindering factors are electronic health record systems and electronic communication. In addition, family physicians and pharmacists believed they had insufficient knowledge about antibiotic allergies and called for tools to rectify inappropriate allergy documentation and facilitate proper documentation going forward.

CONCLUSIONS Family physicians and pharmacists perceive that few documented antibiotic allergies are in fact correct. Electronic health record barriers and communication barriers, as well as a lack of knowledge and facilitating tools, are main causes for numerous inappropriately documented antibiotic allergies and therefore targets for improving documentation in the future.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)326-333
Number of pages8
JournalAnnals of Family Medicine
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • antibiotic allergy
  • drug-related side effects and adverse reactions
  • documentation
  • inappropriate registration
  • antibiotic resistance
  • qualitative research
  • electronic health records
  • primary care
  • practice-based research
  • health information technology
  • CARE

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