Trends in outpatient antibiotic use and prescribing practice among US older adults, 2011-15: observational study

BMJ. 2018 Jul 27:362:k3155. doi: 10.1136/bmj.k3155.


Objective: To identify temporal trends in outpatient antibiotic use and antibiotic prescribing practice among older adults in a high income country.

Design: Observational study using United States Medicare administrative claims in 2011-15.

Setting: Medicare, a US national healthcare program for which 98% of older adults are eligible.

Participants: 4.5 million fee-for-service Medicare beneficiaries aged 65 years old and older.

Main outcome measurements: Overall rates of antibiotic prescription claims, rates of potentially appropriate and inappropriate prescribing, rates for each of the most frequently prescribed antibiotics, and rates of antibiotic claims associated with specific diagnoses. Trends in antibiotic use were estimated by multivariable regression adjusting for beneficiaries' demographic and clinical covariates.

Results: The number of antibiotic claims fell from 1364.7 to 1309.3 claims per 1000 beneficiaries per year in 2011-14 (adjusted reduction of 2.1% (95% confidence interval 2.0% to 2.2%)), but then rose to 1364.3 claims per 1000 beneficiaries per year in 2015 (adjusted reduction of 0.20% over 2011-15 (0.09% to 0.30%)). Potentially inappropriate antibiotic claims fell from 552.7 to 522.1 per 1000 beneficiaries over 2011-14, an adjusted reduction of 3.9% (3.7% to 4.1%). Individual antibiotics had heterogeneous changes in use. For example, azithromycin claims per beneficiary decreased by 18.5% (18.2% to 18.8%) while levofloxacin claims increased by 27.7% (27.2% to 28.3%). Azithromycin use associated with each of the potentially appropriate and inappropriate respiratory diagnoses decreased, while levofloxacin use associated with each of those diagnoses increased.

Conclusion: Among US Medicare beneficiaries, overall antibiotic use and potentially inappropriate use in 2011-15 remained steady or fell modestly, but individual drugs had divergent changes in use. Trends in drug use across indications were stronger than trends in use for individual indications, suggesting that guidelines and concerns about antibiotic resistance were not major drivers of change in antibiotic use.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents* / therapeutic use
  • Drug Utilization / trends*
  • Female
  • Health Services Research
  • Humans
  • Inappropriate Prescribing / trends*
  • Male
  • Medicare
  • Outpatients
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / trends*
  • United States


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents