Many healthcare providers are still writing an antibiotic prescription for patients who walk in with colds, bronchitis, or other acute respiratory infections (ARIs), according to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Barbara Jones, MD, MS, assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Utah and clinician at the VA Salt Lake City Health Care System, and colleagues, analyzed 1,044,523 patient visits for respiratory infections across 130 VA medical centers across the U.S. from 2005–2012. 

They noted that providers prescribed antibiotics in 68% of the visits with a 2% increase over the eight-year period. There was also a 10% increase in broad-spectrum antibiotic (eg, macrolides) use, although guidelines recommend against them as a first line of defense for most respiratory infections.

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The study also found that 59% of the variation on how antibiotics were prescribed was attributed to individual provider habits, 28% due to differences among clinics, and 13% due to differences in practice among hospital centers.

Findings from the analysis suggest that understanding and improving the clinician’s decision-making on antibiotic use is important in reducing antibiotic overuse in the future, researchers concluded.


1. Jones B, et al. Ann Intern Med. 2015;163(2):73-80. 

This article originally appeared on MPR