Declining Antibiotic Prescriptions for Upper Respiratory Infections, 1993–2004




Objectives: To examine antibiotic prescribing trends for U.S. emergency department (ED) visits with upper respiratory tract infections (URIs) between 1993 and 2004.

Methods: Data were compiled from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NHAMCS). URI visits were identified by using ICD-9-CM code 465.9, whereas antibiotics were identified using the National Drug Code Directory class Antimicrobials. A multivariate logistic regression model revealed sociodemographic and geographic factors that were independently associated with receipt of an antibiotic prescription for URIs.

Results: There were approximately 23.4 million ED visits diagnosed as URIs between 1993 and 2004. Although the proportion of URI diagnoses remained relatively stable (p trend = 0.26), a significant decrease in provision of antibiotic prescriptions for URIs occurred during this 12-year period, from a maximum of 55% in 1993, to a minimum of 35% in 2004. Patients who were prescribed antibiotics were more likely to be white than African American and to have been treated in EDs located in the southern United States.

Conclusions: Antibiotic prescribing for URIs continues to decrease, a favorable trend that suggests that national efforts to reduce inappropriate antibiotic usage are having some success. Nevertheless, the frequency of antibiotic treatment for URI in the ED remains high (35%). Future efforts to reduce inappropriate antibiotic prescribing may focus on patients and physicians in southern U.S. EDs. Additional work is needed to address continued evidence of race-related disparities in care.