Assessment of Changes in Visits and Antibiotic Prescribing During the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality Safety Program for Improving Antibiotic Use and the COVID-19 Pandemic

JAMA Netw Open. 2022 Jul 1;5(7):e2220512. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.20512.


Importance: The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) Safety Program for Improving Antibiotic Use aimed to improve antibiotic prescribing in ambulatory care practices by engaging clinicians and staff to incorporate antibiotic stewardship into practice culture, communication, and decision-making. Little is known about implementation of antibiotic stewardship in ambulatory care practices.

Objective: To examine changes in visits and antibiotic prescribing during the AHRQ Safety Program.

Design, setting, and participants: This cohort study evaluated a quality improvement intervention in ambulatory care throughout the US in 389 ambulatory care practices from December 1, 2019, to November 30, 2020.

Exposures: The AHRQ Safety Program used webinars, audio presentations, educational tools, and office hours to engage stewardship leaders and clinical staff to address attitudes and cultures that challenge judicious antibiotic prescribing and incorporate best practices for the management of common infections.

Main outcomes and measures: The primary outcome of the Safety Program was antibiotic prescriptions per 100 acute respiratory infection (ARI) visits. Data on total visits and ARI visits were also collected. The number of visits and prescribing rates from baseline (September 1, 2019) to completion of the program (November 30, 2020) were compared.

Results: Of 467 practices enrolled, 389 (83%) completed the Safety Program; of these, 292 (75%) submitted complete data with 6 590 485 visits to 5483 clinicians. Participants included 82 (28%) primary care practices, 103 (35%) urgent care practices, 34 (12%) federally supported practices, 39 (13%) pediatric urgent care practices, 21 (7%) pediatric-only practices, and 14 (5%) other practice types. Visits per practice per month decreased from a mean of 1624 (95% CI, 1317-1931) at baseline to a nadir of 906 (95% CI, 702-1111) early in the COVID-19 pandemic (April 2020), and were 1797 (95% CI, 1510-2084) at the end of the program. Total antibiotic prescribing decreased from 18.2% of visits at baseline to 9.5% at completion of the program (-8.7%; 95% CI, -9.9% to -7.6%). Acute respiratory infection visits per practice per month decreased from baseline (n = 321) to a nadir of 76 early in the pandemic (May 2020) and gradually increased through completion of the program (n = 239). Antibiotic prescribing for ARIs decreased from 39.2% at baseline to 24.7% at completion of the program (-14.5%; 95% CI, -16.8% to -12.2%).

Conclusions and relevance: In this study of US ambulatory practices that participated in the AHRQ Safety Program, significant reductions in the rates of overall and ARI-related antibiotic prescribing were noted, despite normalization of clinic visits by completion of the program. The forthcoming AHRQ Safety Program content may have utility in ambulatory practices across the US.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • COVID-19*
  • Child
  • Cohort Studies
  • Health Services Research
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • Respiratory Tract Infections*
  • United States


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents