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Published: 2024-07-02 Updated: 2024-07-01, 11:55

Online doctors did not prescribe more antibiotics than others

NEWS Doctors in virtual online health care contacts are no more likely to prescribe antibiotics for infections than doctors in regular health centres, quite the opposite. This is shown by a new study of doctor's visits in Sörmland during 2020–2021 led from Umeå University, Sweden.

Text: Ola Nilsson

"The results indicate that doctors, regardless of employer, follow current recommendations on prescribing antibiotics," says Andy Wallman, pharmacist and senior lecturer in pharmacy at Umeå University and the study's first author.

In the study, the researchers analysed all healthcare contacts in infectious diseases within Region Sörmland from January 2020 to March 2021. A total of 160,000 care visits were included, of which about 124,000 took place at traditional, physical, health centres and 36,000 at online doctors. Of the care visits, 18,000 led to a diagnosis of infection. Among these patients with infectious disease, 61 percent received antibiotics for the infection at traditional health centres, but only 26 percent at online doctors.

However, there were major differences in who sought the different types of healthcare contacts. Visits to traditional health centres were most common in the age group 60–80 years, while visits to online doctors were highest in the age group 20–30 years. After adjusting for factors such as age, gender and whether the prescription was issued before or during the COVID pandemic, a difference remained, so that the probability of being prescribed antibiotics when visiting an online doctor could be calculated to be less than half, 0.23–0.39, compared to a physical health centre.

"There are several possible explanations for the difference, such as the type and severity of infection you seek a physical health centre and an online doctor for. It can also be easier for doctors during a physical visit to determine whether it is really a bacterial infection where antibiotics have an effect," says Andy Wallman.

The study shows that there were also some differences in the types of antibiotics that were prescribed. Both doctors at physical health centres and online doctors followed the national and regional recommendations for antibiotic prescribing, but during visits to traditional health centres, a broader spectrum of antibiotics were prescribed.

The study is published in the scientific journal JMIR, Journal of Medical Internet Research.

About the study

Antibiotic Prescribing by Digital Health Care Providers as Compared to Traditional Primary Health Care Providers: Cohort Study Using Register Data
A. Wallman, K. Svärdsudd, K. Bobits, T. Wallman
doi: 10.2196/55228


Andy Wallman
Associate professor