NPs prescribe fewer unneeded antibiotics than physicians, data shows

Nurse practitioners may be less likely to inappropriately prescribe antibiotics than physicians, according to data from the athenahealth network.

To determine how NPs and MDs differed in their prescribing habits, athenahealth looked at about 1.5 million primary care appointments between 2014 and 2017 with a primary of secondary diagnosis of upper respiratory infection deemed inappropriate for antibiotics, for 1 million patients seen by 4,700 providers active on the athenahealth network since 2013.

The data revealed the network's nurse practitioners were 4.8 percent less likely than physicians to prescribe antibiotics inappropriately during their day.

The variation could be due to differences in training between physicians and nurse practitioners, Joyce Knestrick, PhD, certified registered nurse practitioner and president of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, told athenahealth. Nurse practitioners focus on explaining treatment options in ways patients can easily digest, Dr. Knestrick said.

"It's really hard, particularly in primary care, to explain to patients why they shouldn't get an antibiotic, because everybody wants a quick fix," Dr. Knestrick said. "I try to give the patient a little bit of control with some choices."

"The more informed the consumer is, the less surprised they're going to be when you don't give them an antibiotic," Dr. Knestrick said. "A few of my patients, when I said, 'I really don't think you need an antibiotic at this point,' they said, 'Oh, you're concerned about an antibiotic resistance.'"

Taking the time to educate patients on antibiotic resistance could help prevent the consequences of antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

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