Study Finds Kids Are Overprescribed Antibiotics When Treated By Telemedicine

mom on phone sick child

There’s a new study that suggests that many children may be overprescribed antibiotics, especially when they are being treated by telemedicine, a remote delivery healthcare service that provides health assessments via technology. More parents are choosing telemedicine as a way to treat their children under the care of a doctor without needing to leave their house. This is especially seen when there are no doctor appointments available, and in many rural communities where it’s harder to find a family doctor.

According to Reuters, the new findings raise concerns about the quality of antibiotic prescribing for children via telemedicine. Dr. Kristin Ray, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, said in her study that children with acute respiratory infections were most likely to be prescribed more antibiotics than needed. This was especially true when a doctor visit occurred via telemedicine than at a traditional primary care office or urgent clinic. Dr. Ray worked with a team of researchers, and their results were published in the medical journal, Pediatrics.

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Dr. Ray said, “We found that compared to primary care and urgent care, children with these acute respiratory infections who received care through direct-to-consumer telemedicine were much more likely to receive antibiotics and much less likely to receive antibiotics that were appropriate for the diagnosis they were given.”

Dr. Ray also added that in some instances, children were prescribed antibiotics despite being diagnosed with ailments such as the common cold. In those instances, most medical professionals agree that antibiotics aren’t needed at all. She added, “Sometimes children with diagnoses that may need antibiotics - diagnoses like ear infections, sinus infections, and strep throat - received an antibiotic that isn’t the one the guidelines recommend.”

In her study, Dr. Ray found that children who received antibiotics prescriptions after a telemedicine appointment were about 52 percent of all patients. In comparison, 42 percent of children received a prescription after an urgent care visit, while just 31 percent of children received one after seeing their primary care doctor.

It’s also been noted that more insurance plans have been covering telemedicine visits, allowing families to receive treatment and care from the comfort of their own homes. Many parents use devices such as smartphones, laptops or other electronic screens to connect with their family doctors. However, many of the doctors are not affiliated with a patient’s usual health care provider.

The study by Dr. Ray and her team stated in their research that they discourage telemedicine visits for many reasons, but especially for acute illnesses because of the limited physical exam capabilities.

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