Study: Outpatient Providers Prescribe Excessive Antibiotics

A study reveals that a significant percentage of antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessarily prescribed to outpatients.

The study, published in the American Journal of Infection Control (AJIC), the journal of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC), assessed nearly 1,100 outpatients at the Veterans Affairs Western New York Healthcare System over a several-month period in 2017.

Researchers found that outpatient providers inappropriately prescribed antibiotics to 40% percent of patients — higher than the figure seen in prior studies.

An electronic alert following prescription was used to determine common causes of inappropriate antibiotic use. Findings include the following:

  • Urinary tract infections, bronchitis, skin structure infections and sinusitis were common causes of inappropriate antibiotic use.

  • Azithromycin was prescribed unnecessarily most often. It was followed by ciprofloxacin, amoxicillin/clavulanate and cephalexin. Together, they accounted for 80% of all unnecessary outpatient prescriptions.

  • Compared to patients in outpatient clinics, those seen in emergency departments were twice as likely to receive an antibiotic only when needed. 

Researchers note that outpatient prescriptions comprise 60% of antibiotic use.

In an APIC news release on the study, APIC President Karen Hoffmann is quoted as saying, "Antimicrobial stewardship programs are common in inpatient scenarios, but this research reinforces the point that there continues to be a significant need to build momentum for such initiatives in the outpatient setting."

Concerning antibiotic misuse, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note, "Patients who are unnecessarily exposed to antibiotics are placed at risk for serious adverse events with no clinical benefit. The misuse of antibiotics has also contributed to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance, which has become one of the most serious and growing threats to public health. Unlike other medications, the potential for spread of resistant organisms means that the misuse of antibiotics can adversely impact the health of patients who are not even exposed to them."

CDC estimates more than two million people are infected with antibiotic-resistant organisms, resulting in approximately 23,000 deaths annually.