Association of a Clinician's Antibiotic-Prescribing Rate With Patients' Future Likelihood of Seeking Care and Receipt of Antibiotics

Clin Infect Dis. 2021 Oct 5;73(7):e1672-e1679. doi: 10.1093/cid/ciaa1173.


Background: One underexplored driver of inappropriate antibiotic prescribing for acute respiratory illnesses (ARI) is patients' prior care experiences. When patients receive antibiotics for an ARI, patients may attribute their clinical improvement to the antibiotics, regardless of their true benefit. These experiences, and experiences of family members, may drive whether patients seek care or request antibiotics for subsequent ARIs.

Methods: Using encounter data from a national United States insurer, we identified patients <65 years old with an index ARI urgent care center (UCC) visit. We categorized clinicians within each UCC into quartiles based on their ARI antibiotic prescribing rate. Exploiting the quasi-random assignment of patients to a clinician within an UCC, we examined the association between the clinician's antibiotic prescribing rate to the patients' and their spouses' rates of ARI antibiotic receipt in the subsequent year.

Results: Across 232,256 visits at 736 UCCs, ARI antibiotic prescribing rates were 42.1% and 80.2% in the lowest and highest quartile of clinicians, respectively. Patient characteristics were similar across the four quartiles. In the year after the index ARI visit, patients seen by the highest-prescribing clinicians received more ARI antibiotics (+3.0 fills/100 patients (a 14.6% difference), 95% CI 2.2-3.8, P < 0.001,) versus those seen by the lowest-prescribing clinicians. The increase in antibiotics was also observed among the patients' spouses. The increase in patient ARI antibiotic prescriptions was largely driven by an increased number of ARI visits (+5.6 ARI visits/100 patients, 95% CI 3.6-7.7, P < 0.001), rather than a higher antibiotic prescribing rate during those subsequent ARI visits.

Conclusions: Receipt of antibiotics for an ARI increases the likelihood that patients and their spouses will receive antibiotics for future ARIs.

Keywords: acute respiratory illnesses; antibiotic use; care-seeking behaviors; urgent care.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents* / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Inappropriate Prescribing
  • Middle Aged
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'
  • Respiratory Tract Infections* / drug therapy
  • United States


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents