A clinician education program significantly reduced overall antibiotic prescribing during pediatric visits for acute respiratory tract infections, according to data from 57 clinicians who participated in an intervention.

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In a study published in Pediatrics, Matthew P. Kronman, MD, of the University of Washington, Seattle, and associates randomized 57 clinicians at 19 pediatric practices to a stepped-wedge clinical trial. The study included visits for acute otitis media, bronchitis, pharyngitis, sinusitis, and upper respiratory infections (defined as ARTI visits) for children aged 6 months to less than 11 years, for a total of 72,723 ARTI visits by 29,762 patients. The primary outcome was overall antibiotic prescribing for ARTI visits.

For the intervention, known as the Dialogue Around Respiratory Illness Treatment (DART) quality improvement (QI) program, clinicians received three program modules containing online tutorials and webinars. These professionally-produced modules included a combination of evidence-based communication strategies and antibiotic prescribing, booster video vignettes, and individualized antibiotic prescribing feedback reports over 11 months.

Overall, the probability of antibiotic prescribing for ARTI visits decreased by 7% (adjusted relative risk 0.93) from baseline to a 2- to 8-month postintervention in an adjusted intent-to-treat analysis.

Analysis of secondary outcomes revealed that prescribing any antibiotics for viral ARTI decreased by 40% during the postintervention period compared to baseline (aRR 0.60).

In addition, second-line antibiotic prescribing decreased from baseline by 34% for streptococcal pharyngitis (aRR 0.66), and by 41% for sinusitis (aRR 0.59); however there was no significant change in prescribing for acute otitis media, the researchers said.

The study findings were limited by several factors including the potential for biased results because of the randomization of clinicians from multiple practices and the potential for clinicians to change their prescribing habits after the start of the study, Dr. Kronman and colleagues noted.

In addition, the study did not include complete data on rapid streptococcal antigen testing, which might eliminate some children from the study population, and the relatively short postintervention period “may not represent the true long-term intervention durability may not represent the true long-term intervention durability,” they said.

However, the results support the potential of the DART program. “The 7% reduction in antibiotic prescribing for all ARTIs, if extrapolated to all ambulatory ARTI visits to pediatricians nationally, would represent 1.5 million fewer antibiotic prescriptions for children with ARTI annually,” they wrote.

“Providing online communication training and evidence-based antibiotic prescribing education in combination with individualized antibiotic prescribing feedback reports may help achieve national goals of reducing unnecessary outpatient antibiotic prescribing for children,” Dr. Kronman and associates concluded.

Combining interventions are key to reducing unnecessary antibiotics use in pediatric ambulatory care, Rana F. Hamdy, MD, MPH, of Children’s National Hospital, Washington, , and Sophie E. Katz, MD, of Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn., wrote in an accompanying editorial (Pediatrics. 2020 Aug 3. doi: 10.1542/peds.2020-012922).

The researchers in the current study “seem to recognize that clinicians are adult learners, and they combine interventions to implement these adult learning theory tenets to improve appropriate antibiotic prescribing,” they wrote. The DART intervention combined best practices training, communications training, and individualized antibiotic prescribing feedback reports to improve communication between providers and families “especially when faced with a situation in which a parent or guardian might expect an antibiotic prescription but the provider does not think one is necessary,” Dr. Hamdy and Dr. Katz said.

Overall, the findings suggest that the interventions work best in combination vs. being used alone, although the study did not evaluate the separate contributions of each intervention, the editorialists wrote.

“In the current study, nonengaged physicians had an increase in second-line antibiotic prescribing, whereas the engaged physicians had a decrease in second-line antibiotic prescribing,” they noted. “This suggests that the addition of communications training could mitigate the undesirable effects that may result from solely using feedback reports.”

“Each year, U.S. children are prescribed as many as 10 million unnecessary antibiotic courses for acute respiratory tract infections,” Kristina A. Bryant, MD, of the University of Louisville, Ky., said in an interview. “Some of these prescriptions result in side effects or allergic reactions, and they contribute to growing antibiotic resistance. We need effective interventions to reduce antibiotic prescribing.”

Although the DART modules are free and available online, busy clinicians might struggle to find time to view them consistently, said Dr. Bryant.

“One advantage of the study design was that information was pushed to clinicians along with communication booster videos,” she said. “We know that education and reinforcement over time works better than a one and done approach.

“Study participants also received feedback over time about their prescribing habits, which can be a powerful motivator for change, although not all clinicians may have easy access to these reports,” she noted.

To overcome some of the barriers to using the modules, clinicians who are “interested in improving their prescribing could work with their office managers to develop antibiotic prescribing reports and schedule reminders to review them,” said Dr. Bryant.

“An individual could commit to education and review of his or her own prescribing patterns, but support from one’s partners and shared accountability is likely to be even more effective,” she said. “Sharing data within a practice and exploring differences in prescribing patterns can drive improvement.

“Spaced education and regular feedback about prescribing patterns can improve antibiotic prescribing for pharyngitis and sinusitis, and reduce antibiotic prescriptions for ARTIs,” Dr. Bryant said. The take-home from the study is that it should prompt anyone who prescribes antibiotics for children to ask themselves how they can improve their own prescribing habits.

“In this study, prescribing for viral ARTIs was reduced but not eliminated. We need additional studies to further reduce unnecessary antibiotic use,” Dr. Bryant said.

In addition, areas for future research could include longer-term follow-up. “Study participants were followed for 2 to 8 months after the intervention ended in June 2018. It would be interesting to know about their prescribing practices now, and if the changes observed in the study were durable,” she concluded.

The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health, along with additional infrastructure funding from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Health Resources and Services Administration of the Department of Health and Human Services. The researchers had no financial conflicts to disclose.

Dr. Hamdy and Dr. Katz had no financial conflicts to disclose, but Dr. Katz disclosed grant support through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a recipient of the Leadership in Epidemiology, Antimicrobial Stewardship, and Public Health fellowship, sponsored by the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America, Infectious Diseases Society of America, and Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society.

Dr. Bryant disclosed serving as an investigator on multicenter clinical vaccine trials funded by Pfizer (but not in the last year). She also serves as the current president of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, but the opinions expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect the views of PIDS.

SOURCE: Kronman MP et al. Pediatrics. 2020 Aug 3. doi: 10.1542/peds.2020-0038.