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Ann Emerg Med. 2007 Sep;50(3):213-20. Epub 2007 Apr 30.

Antibiotic use for emergency department patients with upper respiratory infections: prescribing practices, patient expectations, and patient satisfaction.

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  • 1Olive View-University of California Los Angeles Medical Center, Sylmar, CA, USA.



Physicians often prescribe antibiotics to patients even when there is no clear indication for their use. Previous studies examining antibiotic use in acute bronchitis and upper respiratory infections have been conducted in primary care settings. We evaluate the factors that physicians in the emergency department (ED) consider when prescribing antibiotics (eg, patient expectations) and the factors associated with patient satisfaction.


Ten academic EDs enrolled adults and children presenting with symptoms consistent with upper respiratory infection. Enrolled patients were interviewed before their physician encounter and were reinterviewed before discharge and 2 weeks later. Physicians were interviewed about factors that influenced their management decisions, including their perceptions of patients' expectations. Patients with a single diagnosis of uncomplicated acute bronchitis or upper respiratory infection were included for analysis.


Of 272 patients enrolled, 68% of bronchitis patients and 9% of upper respiratory infection patients received antibiotics. Physicians were more likely to prescribe antibiotics when they believed that patients expected them (odds ratio [OR] 5.3; 95% confidence interval [CI] 2.9 to 9.6), although they were able to correctly identify only 27% of the patients who expected antibiotics. Satisfaction with the ED visit was reported by 87% of patients who received antibiotics and 89% of those not receiving antibiotics. Satisfaction with the visit was reported by 92% of patients who believed they had a better understanding of their illness but only by 72% of those who thought they had no better understanding (OR 4.4; 95% CI 2.0 to 8.4).


Physicians in our academic EDs prescribed antibiotics to 68% of acute bronchitis patients and to fewer than 10% of upper respiratory infection patients. Physicians were more likely to prescribe antibiotics to patients who they believed expected them, although they correctly identified only about 1 in 4 of those patients. Patient satisfaction was not related to receipt of antibiotics but was related to the belief they had a better understanding of their illness.

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