Nurse with IV antibiotics and IV tubing.

Antibiotic Prescribing in Ambulatory Pediatrics in the United States

Background: Antibiotics are commonly prescribed for children with conditions for which they provide no benefit, including viral respiratory infections. Broad-spectrum antibiotic use is increasing, which adds unnecessary cost and promotes the development of antibiotic resistance.

Objective: To provide a nationally representative analysis of antibiotic prescribing in ambulatory pediatrics according to antibiotic classes and diagnostic categories and identify factors associated with broad-spectrum antibiotic prescribing.

Patients and methods: We used the National Ambulatory and National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care surveys from 2006 to 2008, which are nationally representative samples of ambulatory care visits in the United States. We estimated the percentage of visits for patients younger than 18 years for whom antibiotics were prescribed according to antibiotic classes, those considered broad-spectrum, and diagnostic categories. We used multivariable logistic regression to identify demographic and clinical factors that were independently associated with broad-spectrum antibiotic prescribing.

Results: Antibiotics were prescribed during 21% of pediatric ambulatory visits; 50% were broad-spectrum, most commonly macrolides. Respiratory conditions accounted for >70% of visits in which both antibiotics and broad-spectrum antibiotics were prescribed. Twenty-three percent of the visits in which antibiotics were prescribed were for respiratory conditions for which antibiotics are not clearly indicated, which accounts for >10 million visits annually. Factors independently associated with broad-spectrum antibiotic prescribing included respiratory conditions for which antibiotics are not indicated, younger patients, visits in the South, and private insurance.

Conclusions: Broad-spectrum antibiotic prescribing in ambulatory pediatrics is extremely common and frequently inappropriate. These findings can inform the development and implementation of antibiotic stewardship efforts in ambulatory care toward the most important geographic regions, diagnostic conditions, and patient populations.

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