To understand antibiotic usage in primary care units in Taiwan after the institution of national health insurance, we collected all prescriptions for one week in March each year from 1996 to 1999 from out-patient clinics of randomly sampled public health stations located in various parts of Taiwan. We sampled 114 health stations with 40,891 patient-visits and 68,386 diagnoses made in 1996; 154 health stations were sampled with 53,992 patient-visits and 99,466 diagnoses in 1997; 166 health stations were sampled with 49,112 patient-visits and 96,161 diagnoses in 1998; and 162 health stations were sampled with 46,976 patient-visits and 93,641 diagnoses in 1999. The percentages of total patient-visits that resulted in antibiotic treatment were 14.2%, 12.5%, 14.1% and 13.0% in the four time periods, respectively. Among patient-visits, patient group under the age of 11 received the highest percentage of antibiotic treatment. Common cold was the most frequent diagnosis for which antibiotic was prescribed during the four time periods, accounting for 32.3% of total antibiotic prescriptions. Among patients with the diagnosis of common cold, 31.3% received antibiotic treatment, and the highest figure was among pediatric patients (<16 year of age). Penicillins, cephalosporins and macrolides were the most commonly prescribed classes of antibiotics. They accounted for 35.4%, 26.5% and 21.6% of all prescribed antibiotics in these four study periods. From this study, it was found that, after institution of the national health insurance system, antibiotics are still very commonly used in primary care units in Taiwan and still seem to be overused.
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