Prevalence and appropriateness of in-person versus not-in-person ambulatory antibiotic prescribing in an integrated academic health system: A cohort study

PLoS One. 2023 Jul 27;18(7):e0289303. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0289303. eCollection 2023.


Objectives: Ambulatory antibiotic stewardship generally aims to address the appropriateness of antibiotics prescribed at in-person visits. The prevalence and appropriateness of antibiotics prescribed outside of in-person visits is poorly studied.

Design and setting: Retrospective cohort study of all ambulatory antibiotic prescribing in an integrated health delivery system in the United States.

Participants: Antibiotic prescribers and patients receiving oral antibiotic prescriptions between January 2016 and December 2019.

Main outcome measures: Proportion of antibiotics prescribed with in-person visits or not-in-person encounters (e.g., telephone, refills). Proportion of prescriptions in in 5 mutually exclusive appropriateness groups: 1) chronic antibiotic use; 2) antibiotic-appropriate; 3) potentially antibiotic-appropriate; 4) non-antibiotic-appropriate; and 5) not associated with a diagnosis.

Results: Over the 4-year study period, there were 714,057 antibiotic prescriptions ordered for 348,739 unique patients by 2,391 clinicians in 467 clinics. Patients had a mean age of 41 years old, were 61% female, and 78% White. Clinicians were 58% women; 78% physicians; and were 42% primary care, 39% medical specialists, and 12% surgical specialists. Overall, 81% of antibiotics were prescribed with in-person visits and 19% without in-person visits. The most common not-in-person encounter types were telephone (10%), orders only (5%), and refill encounters (3%). Of all antibiotic prescriptions, 16% were for chronic use, 15% were antibiotic-appropriate, 39% were potentially antibiotic-appropriate, 22% were non-antibiotic-appropriate, and 8% were not associated with a diagnosis. Antibiotics prescribed in not-in-person encounters were more likely to be chronic (20% versus 15%); less likely to be associated with appropriate or potentially appropriate diagnoses (30% versus 59%) or non-antibiotic-appropriate diagnoses (8% versus 25%); and more likely to be associated with no diagnosis (42% versus <1%).

Conclusions: Ambulatory stewardship interventions that focus only on in-person visits may miss a large proportion of antibiotic prescribing, inappropriate prescribing, and antibiotics prescribed in the absence of any diagnosis.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents* / therapeutic use
  • Cohort Studies
  • Drug Prescriptions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inappropriate Prescribing
  • Male
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'
  • Prevalence
  • Respiratory Tract Infections* / drug therapy
  • Retrospective Studies
  • United States


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents