Urgent care centers may be overprescribing antibiotics

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Patients with respiratory illnesses and colds may be more likely to get antibiotics when they visit an urgent care clinic — an unnecessary prescribing practice that could increase patients' risk of antibiotic-resistant infections, a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found.

"Taking an antibiotic when it is not needed provides no benefit and could be harmful," senior study author Katherine Fleming-Dutra, MD, deputy director of the CDC's Office of Antibiotic Stewardship, told Reuters. Unnecessary antibiotic use can increase patients' risk of antibiotic-resistant infections, among other health risks, Dr. Fleming-Dutra said.

Six things to know about the study:

1. The researchers examined data on outpatient visits for U.S. patients under 65 in 2014, including about 2.7 million urgent care visits, 58,000 retail clinic visits, 4.8 million emergency room visits and 148.5 million visits to physicians' offices.

2. The study found 39 percent of visits to urgent care centers overall resulted in antibiotic prescriptions. Moreover, 46 percent of patients who went to urgent care for conditions that antibiotics can't remedy still received antibiotic prescriptions.

3. Only 7.1 percent of physician office visits resulted in antibiotic prescriptions. Out of 9.2 million visits for colds, flu and other respiratory illnesses that do not require antibiotics, these were prescribed 17 percent of the time.

4. Fourteen percent of ER visits involved antibiotic prescriptions, as did 25 percent of visits for conditions that did not need antibiotics.

5. About 36 percent of visits at retail clinics were linked to antibiotic prescribing, as were 14 percent of visits for conditions that did not require antibiotics.

6. A limitation of the study was the reliance on insurance claims data designed for billing, which may not accurately show why patients received specific treatments, the study authors said.

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