Patients who visit their doctor through an online consultation might be more likely to receive prescriptions for antibiotics without undergoing the relevant testing, according to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, FierceHealthIT reports (Bowman, FierceHealthIT, 11/20).
For the study, researchers examined more than 8,100 in-person and online patient visits to four primary care providers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Health System between Jan. 1, 2010, and May 1, 2011.
The visits included:
- 5,165 appointments for sinusitis, of which 465 were online consultations; and
- 2,954 appointments for urinary tract infections, of which 99 were online consultations.
According to the study:
- Physicians ordered a UTI-relevant test during 51% of in-office visits, but only 8% of online appointments;
- Physicians ordered tests, X-rays or CT scans for sinusitis during 1.2% of in-office visits, but not for any online appointments;
- Physicians prescribed antibiotics for patients with UTIs during 49% of in-person encounters, compared with 99% of online visits; and
- Physicians prescribed antibiotics for patients with sinusitis during 94% of in-person encounters, compared with 99% of online visits (Conn, Modern Healthcare, 11/19).
Comments on Findings
The study authors wrote, "When physicians cannot directly examine the patient, physicians may use a 'conservative' approach and order antibiotics."
According to a UPMC release, the overuse of antibiotics could lead to an increase in drug-resistant bacteria (FierceHealthIT, 11/20).