Telemedicine and Increased Antibiotics Prescriptions for Kids

Donna White

Donna White

By Donna White, Principal Consultant and Owner of Legacy Consulting Services and Legacy Billing Solutions in Montgomery, Alabama.

We have been reviewing telemedicine a lot lately. Telemedicine is still in its infancy, with many providers hesitant to jump in. One specialty, however, has been increasing their telehealth visits, and that is pediatrics. And while there have been numerous studies on the benefits of telemedicine for adults, there have been very few regarding the effects on children.

A new study has found that children with cold symptoms seen via telehealth were prescribed antibiotics considerably more than those seen in an office setting. Over half of the telemedicine visits were prescribed antibiotics, where it was lower with 42% at urgent care clinics and 31% at doctors’ offices. The added concern is that this was often done without considering medical guidelines.

But antibiotics are pretty harmless, right? When prescribed correctly, they are the most effective methods of reducing the length of a cold or strep throat. However, this study found that 4 out of 10 times, providers were prescribing bacteria-fighting medications to treat viral illnesses. This can lead to increased costs and potentially serious side effects. Interestingly, another study done on antibiotic prescriptions for adults shows little difference between telehealth and office settings.

Additionally, the study found that other standard medical guidelines, like swabbing the throat and running a lab test to identify strep throat, were being ignored in lieu of diagnosing and treating illnesses via telehealth.

Why do you think antibiotics are being over-prescribed in pediatric cases, but not adult cases? As we have seen, telehealth is not going anywhere, and in an increasingly busy life, will become a more and more preferred method of a visit to a healthcare provider. Especially where children are concerned. In either case, more studies need to be done on the results of pediatric telehealth visits to ensure children are receiving the best care possible.


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