Trends in antibiotic prescribing for adults in the United States--1995 to 2002

J Gen Intern Med. 2005 Aug;20(8):697-702. doi: 10.1111/j.1525-1497.2005.0148.x.


Context: The impact of national efforts to limit antibiotic prescribing has not been fully evaluated.

Objectives: To analyze trends in outpatient visits associated with antibiotic prescription for U.S. adults.

Design: Cross-sectional study of data (1995 to 2002) from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey and the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey.

Participants: Adults > or =18 years with an outpatient visit to an office- or hospital-based medical practice or to an emergency department. All visits were classified into 1 of 4 diagnostic categories: (1) acute respiratory infection (ARI)-antibiotics rarely indicated, (2) ARI-antibiotics often indicated, (3) nonrespiratory infection-antibiotics often indicated, and (4) all others.

Measurements: Trends in: (1) Proportion of outpatient visits associated with an antibiotic prescription; (2) proportion of antibiotic prescriptions that were broad spectrum; and (3) number of visits and antibiotic prescriptions per 1,000 U.S. adults > or =18 years of age.

Results: From 1995-1996 to 2001-2002, the proportion of all outpatient visits that generated an antibiotic prescription decreased from 17.9% to 15.3% (adjusted odds ratio [OR] 0.84, 95 % confidence interval [CI] 0.76 to 0.92). The entire reduction was because of a decrease in antibiotic prescriptions associated with visits for ARIs where antibiotics are rarely indicated from 59.9% to 49.1% (adjusted OR 0.64 95% CI 0.51 to 0.80). However, the proportion of prescribed antibiotics for these visits that were classified as broad-spectrum antibiotic prescription increased from 41.0% to 76.8%. Overall outpatient visits increased from 1693 to 1986 per 1,000 adults over the 8 years studied, but associated antibiotic prescriptions changed little, from 302 to 304 per 1,000 adults.

Conclusion: During the study period, outpatient antibiotic prescribing for respiratory infections where antibiotics are rarely indicated has declined, while the proportion of broad-spectrum antibiotics prescribed for these diagnoses has increased significantly. This trend resulted in a 15% decline in the total proportion of outpatient visits in which antibiotics were prescribed. However, because outpatient visits increased 17% over this time period, the population burden of outpatient antibiotic prescriptions changed little.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Ambulatory Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Drug Utilization
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Odds Ratio
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / trends*
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / drug therapy
  • United States


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents