To test whether an educational outreach intervention for families and physicians, based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) principles of judicious antibiotic use, decreases antimicrobial drug prescribing for children younger than 6 years old.


Twelve practices affiliated with 2 managed care organizations (MCOs) in eastern Massachusetts and northwest Washington State.


All enrolled children younger than 6 years old.


Practices stratified by MCO and size were randomized to intervention or control groups. The intervention included 2 meetings of the practice with a physician peer leader, using CDC-endorsed summaries of judicious prescribing recommendations; feedback on previous prescribing rates were also provided. Parents were mailed a CDC brochure on antibiotic use, and supporting materials were displayed in waiting rooms. Automated enrollment, ambulatory visit, and pharmacy claims were used to determine rates of antibiotic courses dispensed (antibiotics/person-year) during baseline (1996–1997) and intervention (1997–1998) years. The primary analysis (for children 3 to <36 months and 36 to <72 months) assessed the impact of the intervention among children during the intervention year, controlling for covariates including patient age and baseline prescription rate. Confirmatory analyses at the practice level were also performed.


The practices cared for 14 468 and 13 460 children in the 2 study years, respectively; 8815 children contributed data in both years. Sixty-two percent of antibiotic courses were dispensed for otitis media, 6.5% for pharyngitis, 6.3% for sinusitis, and 9.2% for colds and bronchitis. Antibiotic dispensing for children 3 to <36 months old decreased 0.41 antibiotics per person-year (18.6%) in intervention compared with 0.33 (11.5%) in control practices. Among children 36 to <72 months old, the rate decreased by 0.21 antibiotics per person-year (15%) in intervention and 0.17 (9.8%) in control practices. Multivariate analysis showed an adjusted intervention effect of 16% in the younger and 12% in the older age groups. The direction and approximate magnitude of effect were confirmed in practice-level analyses.


A limited simultaneous educational outreach intervention for parents and providers reduced antibiotic use among children in primary care practices, even in the setting of substantial secular trends toward decreased prescribing. Future efforts to promote judicious prescribing should continue to build on growing public awareness of antibiotic overuse.

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