Point-of-care testing of C-reactive protein (CRP) may be a way to reduce unnecessary use of antibiotics without harming patients who have acute exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
We performed a multicenter, open-label, randomized, controlled trial involving patients with a diagnosis of COPD in their primary care clinical record who consulted a clinician at 1 of 86 general medical practices in England and Wales for an acute exacerbation of COPD. The patients were assigned to receive usual care guided by CRP point-of-care testing (CRP-guided group) or usual care alone (usual-care group). The primary outcomes were patient-reported use of antibiotics for acute exacerbations of COPD within 4 weeks after randomization (to show superiority) and COPD-related health status at 2 weeks after randomization, as measured by the Clinical COPD Questionnaire, a 10-item scale with scores ranging from 0 (very good COPD health status) to 6 (extremely poor COPD health status) (to show noninferiority).
A total of 653 patients underwent randomization. Fewer patients in the CRP-guided group reported antibiotic use than in the usual-care group (57.0% vs. 77.4%; adjusted odds ratio, 0.31; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.20 to 0.47). The adjusted mean difference in the total score on the Clinical COPD Questionnaire at 2 weeks was -0.19 points (two-sided 90% CI, -0.33 to -0.05) in favor of the CRP-guided group. The antibiotic prescribing decisions made by clinicians at the initial consultation were ascertained for all but 1 patient, and antibiotic prescriptions issued over the first 4 weeks of follow-up were ascertained for 96.9% of the patients. A lower percentage of patients in the CRP-guided group than in the usual-care group received an antibiotic prescription at the initial consultation (47.7% vs. 69.7%, for a difference of 22.0 percentage points; adjusted odds ratio, 0.31; 95% CI, 0.21 to 0.45) and during the first 4 weeks of follow-up (59.1% vs. 79.7%, for a difference of 20.6 percentage points; adjusted odds ratio, 0.30; 95% CI, 0.20 to 0.46). Two patients in the usual-care group died within 4 weeks after randomization from causes considered by the investigators to be unrelated to trial participation.
CRP-guided prescribing of antibiotics for exacerbations of COPD in primary care clinics resulted in a lower percentage of patients who reported antibiotic use and who received antibiotic prescriptions from clinicians, with no evidence of harm. (Funded by the National Institute for Health Research Health Technology Assessment Program; PACE Current Controlled Trials number, ISRCTN24346473.).