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Antibiotics for Respiratory Tract Infections: A Comparison of Prescribing in an Outpatient Setting

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 December 2014

Tamar F. Barlam*
Section of Infectious Diseases, Department of Medicine, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA, USA
Jake R. Morgan
Department of Health Policy and Management, Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA
Lee M. Wetzler
Section of Infectious Diseases, Department of Medicine, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA, USA
Cindy L. Christiansen
Department of Health Policy and Management, Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA
Mari-Lynn Drainoni
Section of Infectious Diseases, Department of Medicine, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA, USA Department of Health Policy and Management, Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA Center for Healthcare Organization and Implementation Research, Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Affairs Hospital, Bedford, MA, USA
Address correspondence to Tamar F. Barlam, MD, Boston Medical Center, Section of Infectious Diseases, 771 Albany Street, Dowling 3 North, Boston, Massachusetts USA 02118 (



To examine inappropriate antibiotic prescribing for acute respiratory tract infections (RTIs) in ambulatory care to help target antimicrobial stewardship interventions.

Design and Setting

Retrospective analysis of RTI visits within general internal medicine (GIM) and family medicine (FM) ambulatory practices at an inner-city academic medical center from 2008 to 2010.


Patient, physician, and practice characteristics were analyzed using multivariable logistic regression to determine factors predictive of inappropriate prescribing; physicians in the highest and lowest antibiotic-prescribing quartiles were compared using χ2 analysis.


Visits with FM providers, female gender, and self-reported race/ethnicity as white or Hispanic were significantly associated with inappropriate antibiotic prescribing. Physicians in the lowest quartile prescribed antibiotics for 5%–28% (mean, 21%) of RTI visits; physicians in the highest quartile prescribed antibiotics for 54%–85% (mean, 65%) of RTI visits. High prescribers had fewer African-American patients and more patients who were younger and privately insured. High prescribers had more patients with chronic lung disease. A GIM practice pod with a low prescriber was 3.0 times more likely to have a second low prescriber than other practice pods, whereas pods with a high prescriber were 1.3 times more likely to have a second high prescriber.


Medical specialty was the only physician factor predictive of inappropriate prescribing when patient gender, race, and comorbidities were taken into account. Possible disparities in care need further study. Stewardship education in medical school, enlisting low prescribers as physician leaders, and targeting interventions to the highest prescribers might be more effective approaches to antimicrobial stewardship.

Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol 2014;00(0): 1–7

Original Articles
© 2014 by The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America. All rights reserved 

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