Antibiotics are frequently prescribed for suspected pneumonia, but overdiagnosis is common and fixed regimens are often used despite randomized trials suggesting it is safe to stop antibiotics once clinical signs are normalizing.
To quantify potential excess antibiotic prescribing by characterizing antibiotic use relative to patients' initial clinical signs and subsequent trajectories.
Design, Setting, and Participants
An observational cohort study was conducted in 2 tertiary and 2 community hospitals in Eastern Massachusetts. All nonventilated adult patients admitted between May 1, 2017, and July 1, 2018 (194 521 hospitalizations), were included.
Main Outcomes and Measures
Identification of all antibiotic starts for possible community-acquired pneumonia (CAP) or hospital-acquired pneumonia (HAP) per clinicians' stated indications. Potential excess antibiotic prescribing was quantified by characterizing the frequency of patients in whom all clinical signs were within reference ranges on the first day of antibiotic therapy and by how long antibiotic therapy was continued after all clinical signs were normal, including postdischarge antibiotics.
Among 194 521 hospitalizations, 9540 patients were treated for possible CAP (4574 [48.0%] women; mean [SD] age, 67.6 [17.0] years) and 2733 for possible HAP (1211 [44.3%] women; mean [SD] age, 66.7 [16.2] years). Temperature, respiratory rate, oxygen saturation, and white blood cell count were all within reference ranges on the first day of antibiotics in 1779 of 9540 (18.6%) episodes of CAP and 370 of 2733 (13.5%) episodes of HAP. Antibiotics were continued for 3 days or longer after all clinical signs were normal in 3322 of 9540 (34.8%) episodes of CAP and 1050 of 2733 (38.4%) episodes of HAP. Up to 24 978 of 71 706 (34.8%) antibiotic-days prescribed for possible pneumonia may have been unnecessary.
Conclusions and Relevance
In this study, almost one-fifth of hospitalized patients treated for pneumonia did not have any of the cardinal signs of pneumonia on the first day of treatment and antibiotics were continued for 3 days or longer after all signs were normal in more than a third of patients. These observations suggest substantial opportunities to improve antibiotic prescribing.