Objective. Several studies have demonstrated that acute otitis media (AOM) in children can be managed without antibiotics. Because children with AOM have traditionally been treated with antibiotics in the United States, there are concerns that parents may not be comfortable with their children being treated with pain control alone. Recently, Cates in England showed that antibiotic usage for AOM could be decreased by prescribing a safety-net antibiotic prescription (SNAP) to be filled if symptoms do not resolve with observation after 48 hours. It is not clear whether a SNAP will be acceptable to parents in other settings such as the United States. The objective of our study was to determine whether parents in the United States find a SNAP for AOM acceptable and whether antibiotic usage could be decreased by its use.

Methods. A pediatric practice-based research network in a midwestern community of 1.8 million was the setting for this study. The Cincinnati Pediatric Research Group (CPRG) includes practices in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana. Children who were between 1 and 12 years of age and presented to the offices of the CPRG with uncomplicated AOM were eligible for the study. Children were excluded when they had temperature >101.5°F, had an ear infection in the past 3 months, showed signs of another bacterial infection, or were toxic appearing. Families were given acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or topical otic anesthetic drops for pain control. They were also given a prescription for an antibiotic and instructed not to fill it unless symptoms either increased or did not resolve after 48 hours. The data were entered directly by investigators via an Internet site.

Results. A total of 194 children were enrolled in 11 offices over 12 months; 175 (90%) completed the follow-up interview. The average child’s age was 5.0 years. Only 55 (31%) of the 175 who were contacted for follow-up had filled their antibiotic prescription. Compared with their previous experience, parents were overwhelmingly willing to treat AOM with pain medication alone (χ2 = 111). Seventy-eight percent (95% confidence interval: 71%–84%) of parents reported that the pain medication was effective. Sixty-three percent (95% confidence interval: 55%–70%) of parents reported that they would be willing to treat future AOM episodes without antibiotics and with pain medication alone.

Conclusions. A subset of parents find a safety-net prescription and pain control acceptable in the treatment of AOM, and antibiotic usage can be lowered with this strategy.

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