Clinician Distress and Inappropriate Antibiotic Prescribing for Acute Respiratory Tract Infections: A Retrospective Cohort Study

Published:February 04, 2022DOI:


      The National Academy of Medicine's 2019 consensus study on clinician burnout identified a need for research evaluating the impact of clinician distress on health care quality. This study examined the association between clinician distress and the inappropriate use of antibiotic prescriptions for acute respiratory tract infections (RTIs) in adult outpatients.


      A retrospective cohort study was conducted using electronic health record visit data linked to annual wellness surveys administered to all clinicians at Boston Medical Center from May 4 to June 20, 2017, and June 5 to July 6, 2018. Included were outpatient visits occurring in Family Medicine, General Internal Medicine, or the emergency department in which an acute RTI for an otherwise healthy adult was listed as a primary diagnosis. The study examined the association of clinician depression, anxiety, and burnout with the visit-level odds of a clinician inappropriately prescribing an antibiotic for an acute RTI.


      Out of the 2,187 visits eligible for inclusion, 1,668 visits were included in the final sample. Overall, 33.8% and 51.0% of clinicians reported depression/anxiety and burnout symptoms, respectively. Each 1 standard deviation increase in a clinician's composite depression and anxiety score was associated with a 28% increase (odds ratio = 1.28, 95% confidence interval = 1.02–1.61) in the adjusted odds of an inappropriate antibiotic prescription for an acute RTI. Clinician burnout had no significant association with inappropriate antibiotic prescribing for acute RTIs.


      These findings suggest that clinician depression and anxiety may be important indicators of health care quality in routine outpatient care.
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