Study: Unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions vary by race in pediatric EDs

Non-Hispanic white pediatric emergency department patients are about twice as likely to receive unnecessary antibiotics for the treatment of a viral illness compared to their black and Latino peers, according to a study published in Pediatrics.

For the study, researchers analyzed electronic health data on patient encounters compiled across seven geographically diverse pediatric EDs in 2013. Among the 39,445 encounters for viral infections identified, 2.6 percent involved the use of antibiotics. When assessing antibiotic use by race, researchers found 4.3 percent of non-Hispanic whites were given antibiotics for viral infections, compared to 1.9 percent of blacks and 2.6 percent of Hispanics.

"It is encouraging that just 2.6 percent of children treated in pediatric [EDs] across the nation received antibiotics for viral acute respiratory tract infections since antibiotics are ineffective in treating viral infections," said study author Monika Goyal, MD, director of research in the Division of Emergency Medicine at Children's National Health System in Washington, D.C. "However, it is troubling to see such persistent racial and ethnic differences in how medications are prescribed, in this case in the ED. In addition to providing the best evidence-based care, we also strive to provide equitable care to all patients."

Researchers concluded further research is needed to determine the reasons behind the racial disparities. 

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