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Ann Fam Med. 2009 Jan-Feb;7(1):32-40. doi: 10.1370/afm.910.

What drives prescribing of asthma medication to children? A multilevel population-based study.

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  • 1Division of Pharmacoepidemiology & Pharmacotherapy, Utrecht Institute for Pharmaceutical Sciences (UIPS), Faculty of Science, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands.



Diagnosing asthma in children with asthmatic symptoms remains a challenge, particularly in preschool children. This challenge creates an opportunity for variability in prescribing. The aim of our study was to investigate how and to what degree patient, family, and physician characteristics influence prescribing of asthma medication in children.


We undertook a multilevel population-based study using the second Dutch national survey of general practice (DNSGP-2), 2001. Participants were 46,371 children aged 1 to 17 years belonging to 25,537 families registered with 109 general practitioners. Using a multilevel multivariate logistic regression analysis with 3 levels, our main outcome measure was the prescribing of asthma medication, defined as at least 1 prescription for beta(2)-adrenergic agonists, inhaled corticosteroids, cromones, or montelukast during the 1-year study period.


We identified characteristics significantly associated with prescribing asthma medication on all 3 levels (child, family, and physician). The variance in prescribing among physicians was significantly higher with children who were younger than 6 years than with children aged 6 years and older (95% CI, 3.5%-25.2% vs 2.4%-13.4%). Several diagnoses other than asthma and asthmatic complaints were strongly associated with prescribing asthma medication, including bronchitis/bronchiolitis (OR = 9.04; 95% CI, 7.57-10.8) and cough (OR = 6.51; 95% CI, 5.68-7.47).


Our study shows a much higher variance in prescribing patterns among general practitioners for children younger than 6 years compared with older children, which could be a direct result of the diagnostic complexities found in young children with asthmatic symptoms. Thus diagnostic gaps may lead to more physician-driven prescribing irrespective of the clinical context.

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