Non-Visit-Based and Non-Infection-Related Antibiotic Use in the US: A Cohort Study of Privately Insured Patients During 2016-2018

Open Forum Infect Dis. 2021 Aug 1;8(9):ofab412. doi: 10.1093/ofid/ofab412. eCollection 2021 Sep.


Background: Ambulatory antibiotic prescriptions without a clinic visit or without documentation of infection could represent overuse and contribute to adverse outcomes. We aim to describe US ambulatory antibiotic prescribing, including those without an associated visit or infection diagnosis.

Methods: We conducted an observational cohort study using data of all patients receiving antibacterial, antibiotic prescriptions from 04/01/2016 to 06/30/2018 in a large US private health insurance plan. We identified outpatient antibiotic prescriptions as (1) associated with a clinician visit and an infection-related diagnosis; (2) associated with a clinician visit but no infection-related diagnosis; or (3) not associated with an in-person clinician visit in the 7 days before the prescription (non-visit-based). We then assessed whether non-visit-based antibiotic prescriptions (NVBAPs) differed from visit-based antibiotics by patient, clinician, or antibiotic characteristics using multivariable models.

Results: The cohort included 8.6M enrollees who filled 22.3M antibiotic prescriptions. NVBAP accounted for 31% (6.9M) of fills, and non-infection-related prescribing accounted for 22% (4.9M). NVBAP rates were lower for children than for adults (0-17 years old, 16%; 18-64 years old, 33%; >65 years old, 34%). Among most commonly prescribed antibiotic classes, NVBAP was highest for penicillins (36%) and lowest for cephalosporins (25%) and macrolides (25%). Specialist physicians had the highest rate of NVBAP (38%), followed by internists (28%), family medicine (20%), and pediatricians (10%). In multivariable models, NVBAP was associated with increasing age, and NVBAP was less likely for patients in the South, those with more baseline clinical visits, or those with chronic lung disease.

Conclusions: Over half of ambulatory antibiotic use was either non-visit-based or non-infection-related. Particularly given health care changes due to the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic, efforts to improve antibiotic prescribing must account for non-visit-based and non-infection-related prescribing.

Keywords: antibiotic prescribing; quality of prescribing; virtual care.