Inappropriate antibiotic prescribing in kids cost $74M in excess in 2017, Pew study finds

Inappropriate prescribing of antibiotics in non-hospitalized children led to at least $74 million in excess healthcare costs in 2017, a new study found.

The study, conducted by Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the Pew Charitable Trusts, looked at private insurance claims data on 2.8 million children. They were diagnosed for several common bacterial and viral infections between April 2016 and Sept. 2018. Children who were prescribed unnecessary antibiotics in outpatient care were also found to be up to eight times more likely to develop complications, some of which can be deadly.  

“Inappropriate prescribing of antibiotics is unfortunately very common and leads to adverse drug events and millions of dollars in avoidable healthcare costs,” lead author Anne Mobley Butler, Ph.D., an assistant professor of medicine at Washington University, said in a press release. “Antibiotics are not harmless—they can cause adverse drug events. Clinicians need to insure that antibiotics are only used in the way that is most likely to benefit the patient.”

Viral bronchitis and bronchiolitis were not associated with additional medical complications or excess costs. 

While many hospitals have established antibiotic stewardship programs to discourage inappropriate antibiotic use, such programs may be less common in urgent care centers and physician offices, the study suggested. 

“Taking antibiotics when they’re not needed, or taking the wrong antibiotic when one is needed, accelerates the threat of dangerous superbugs, and has serious consequences for individual patients,” David Hyun, M.D., director of the Pew Charitable Trusts’ antibiotic resistance project and co-author of the study, said in the release. “We hope this research will serve as a roadmap to help health systems, insurers and other health care organizations as they work to strengthen efforts to improve antibiotic prescribing, protect children’s health and save money.”