Antibiotic prescribing for nonbacterial acute upper respiratory infections in elderly persons

Michael Silverman, Marcus Povitz, Jessica M. Sontrop, Lihua Li, Lucie Richard, Sonny Cejic, Salimah Z. Shariff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

89 Scopus citations


Background: Reducing inappropriate antibiotic prescribing for acute upper respiratory tract infections (AURIs) requires a better understanding of the factors associated with this practice. Objective: To determine the prevalence of antibiotic prescribing for nonbacterial AURIs and whether prescribing rates varied by physician characteristics. Design: Retrospective analysis of linked administrative health care data. Setting: Primary care physician practices in Ontario, Canada (January-December 2012). Patients: Patients aged 66 years or older with nonbacterial AURIs. Patients with cancer or immunosuppressive conditions and residents of long-term care homes were excluded. Measurements: Antibiotic prescriptions for physiciandiagnosed AURIs. A multivariable logistic regression model with generalized estimating equations was used to examine whether prescribing rates varied by physician characteristics, accounting for clustering of patients among physicians and adjusting for patient-level covariates. Results: The cohort included 8990 primary care physicians and 185 014 patients who presented with a nonbacterial AURI, including the common cold (53.4%), acute bronchitis (31.3%), acute sinusitis (13.6%), or acute laryngitis (1.6%). Forty-six percent of patients received an antibiotic prescription; most prescriptions were for broad-spectrum agents (69.9% [95% CI, 69.6% to 70.2%]). Patients were more likely to receive prescriptions from mid-and late-career physicians than early-career physicians (rate difference, 5.1 percentage points [CI, 3.9 to 6.4 percentage points] and 4.6 percentage points [CI, 3.3 to 5.8 percentage points], respectively), from physicians trained outside of Canada or the United States (3.6 percentage points [CI, 2.5 to 4.6 percentage points]), and from physicians who saw 25 to 44 patients per day or 45 or more patients per day than those who saw fewer than 25 patients per day (3.1 percentage points [CI, 2.1 to 4.0 percentage points] and 4.1 percentage points [CI, 2.7 to 5.5 percentage points], respectively). Limitation: Physician rationale for prescribing was unknown. Conclusion: In this low-risk elderly cohort, 46% of patients with a nonbacterial AURI were prescribed antibiotics. Patients were more likely to receive prescriptions from mid-or late-career physicians with high patient volumes and from physicians who were trained outside of Canada or the United States. Primary Funding Source: Ontario Ministry of Health and Longterm Care, Academic Medical Organization of Southwestern Ontario, Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, Western University, and Lawson Health Research Institute.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)765-774
Number of pages10
JournalAnnals of Internal Medicine
Issue number11
StatePublished - 6 Jun 2017
Externally publishedYes


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