Antibiotics Commonly Prescribed Inappropriately in Urgent Care

Inappropriate antibiotic prescribing is common in ambulatory care settings, particularly urgent care, according to a JAMA Internal Medicine research letter.

Using an outpatient claims database, researchers tracked antibiotic prescriptions in various outpatient settings. Visits for antibiotic-inappropriate respiratory illness (e.g., suspected viral upper respiratory infection or pneumonia, bronchitis or bronchiolitis, asthma or allergy, influenza, nonsuppurative otitis media) made up roughly 17% of retail clinic and urgent care visits and roughly 6% of medical office and emergency department visits. Of those diagnosed with an antibiotic-inappropriate respiratory illness, here were the proportions prescribed antibiotics:

  • Urgent care: 46%
  • Emergency department: 25%
  • Medical offices: 17%
  • Retail clinics: 14%

Commentators note: “Unlike patients seen at an outpatient practice, those who go to an urgent care center are unlikely to see their regular physician or a member of their physician’s team. Primary care physicians may be in a better position than an unfamiliar clinician to convince patients that it is not in their interest to take an antibiotic.”


JAMA Internal Medicine research letter (Free)

JAMA Internal Medicine commentary (Free)

Background: NEJM Journal Watch General Medicine coverage of behavioral interventions to reduce inappropriate antibiotic prescribing (Your NEJM Journal Watch registration required)