Consensus of microbiology reporting of ear swab results to primary care clinicians in patients with otitis externa

M. Geyer, R. Howell-Jones, Cliodna McNulty*, R. Cunningham

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    6 Citations (Scopus)


    Otitis externa is a ubiquitous inflammatory disease; although it arises most commonly from an infection, there is no consensus in the UK for the reporting of ear swab culture results. This study aims to review current microbiology laboratory reporting of ear swab specimens to primary care and reach an evidence-based consensus for a reporting policy. Fifty consecutive ear swab reports were reviewed from each of 12 laboratories in the South West region to determine and discuss reporting practice. The Health Protection Agency (HPA) GP Microbiology Laboratory Use Group reviewed the underlying evidence and worked towards a consensus of expert microbiology opinion for laboratory reporting of ear swab results using a modified version of the Delphi technique. A total of 487 reports from primary care were reviewed (54% female; 46% male). Cultures most commonly yielded Pseudomonas species (36%), Staphylococcus species (21%), Streptococcus species (15%) and fungi (11%). Five reporting policies were agreed: Policy 1: Common pathogens such as group A b-haemolytic streptococci, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Staphylococcus aureus - Always reported by name with antibiotic susceptibilities. Policy 2: Pseudomonas species - Always reported, but antibiotic susceptibilities only reported in severe disease. Policy 3: Aspergillus, Candida, coliforms and Proteus species, as well as nongroup A streptococci and anaerobes - Only reported if moderate numbers of colonies and it is the predominant organism present; if appropriate report antibiotic susceptibilities. Policy 4: Coagulase-negative staphylococci, diphtheroids and enterococci - Not reported by name; generic terms used and antibiotic susceptibilities not reported. Policy 5: When antibiotic susceptibilities reported these must include susceptibility to a topical antibiotic. It is suggested that laboratories should consider adopting this evidence-based reporting consensus for ear swab culture results from primary care patients with otitis externa.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)174-180
    Number of pages7
    JournalBritish Journal of Biomedical Science
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 2011


    • Delphi consensus
    • Ear swabs
    • Otitis externa
    • Primary care


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