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BACKGROUND: General practitioners (GPs) prescribe antibiotics to three-quarters of patients who consult with a lower respiratory tract illness (LRTi). In spite of this management, around a quarter of patients reconsult for the same symptoms within a month. AIM: To investigate the impact of providing a simple leaflet regarding the natural history of lower respiratory tract symptoms on reconsultation rates for previously well adults presenting to their GP with an LRTi. METHOD: Seventy-six GPs studied 1014 previously well adults presenting with an illness defined as an LRTi. Management was left to the GP's discretion. Half of the patients were randomly allocated to receive an information leaflet at the end of the consultation, blinded from the GP. The endpoint was reconsultation for the same symptoms within one month. RESULTS: Follow-up data was available for 1006 adults, of whom 182 (18%) reconsulted. Fewer patients who received the leaflet (75/505; 14.9%) returned to the surgery compared with those who did not (107/501; 21.4%; P = 0.007). The same benefit was found for the 723 (72%) adults treated initially with antibiotics; 16% (60/369) in the leaflet group returned compared with 23% (81/354) in the no leaflet group (P = 0.02). CONCLUSION: Informing previously well patients about the natural history of LRTi symptoms is an effective strategy for reducing reconsultations, benefiting the patient and the GP; it is likely to reduce antibiotic prescriptions and future patient consultation habits.