- Jennifer Middleton, MD, MPH
The current issue of AFP includes the "Top POEMS of 2017 Consistent with the Choosing Wisely Guidelines," an annual round-up of practice-changing studies for family physicians from the last year. 14 POEMs are described in detail (along with 7 more in eTable A). 3 of these practice changers deal with common outpatient infections: oral corticosteroids don't help acute wheezing in adults without asthma, tympanostomy tubes don't improve hearing outcomes in children with recurrent acute otitis media (AOM) or chronic otitis media with effusion (OME), and adding trimethoprim/sulfamethoxale (TMP/SMX) to cephalexin doesn't improve outcomes for adolescents and adults with uncomplicated cellulitis.
The authors of the first study discuss the desirability of avoiding antibiotics for viral lower respiratory tract infections (LRTI), and having an alternative to offer patients may help decrease unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions. Unfortunately, 5 days of prednisolone did not improve the duration or severity of cough or wheezing compared to placebo in this multi-center, randomized controlled trial (RCT) of 401 adults without asthma in the United Kingdom. For now, conservative measures such as rest, fluids, honey (in children over 1 year of age), and antitussives (only in patients older than 6 years) will have to suffice for patients with LRTI as reviewed in this 2010 AFP article on "Diagnosis and Treatment of Acute Bronchitis."
A meta-analysis of 18 RCTs found no difference in hearing after tympanostomy tube placement in children with either recurrent AOM or chronic OME after 12-24 months with age-matched controls. Nearly 7% of US children have had tympanostomy tubes placed, making it the most common ambulatory surgery performed on children in the US at a mean cost of $769 per surgery. That's a lot of parental concern, patient discomfort, and expense for a procedure that's not improving outcomes. This AFP Clinical Evidence Handbook article reminds us that, without antibiotics, AOM symptoms resolve in 80% of children within 3 days. Searching AFP by the keyword "otitis" yields several other useful review articles.
An RCT of 496 patients aged 12 years and older across 5 US emergency departments found no difference in clinical cure rates between patients with uncomplicated cellulitis treated only with cephalexin and patients treated with both cephalexin and TMP/SMX. Dr. Lin discussed this study last year on the blog, reminding us that reducing unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions is an important step to reducing antibiotic resistance. (Patients with a skin abscess requiring incision and drainage, however, may benefit from either oral clindamycin or TMP/SMX.)
Changing established practice habits can be challenging; tools such as office QI projects and pre-visit planning may help, along with using motivational interviewing when patients request inappropriate treatments and using electronic health system reminders. This 2016 AFP editorial reviews "How to Prescribe Fewer Unnecessary Antibiotics: Talking Points that Work With Patients and Their Families." I've added that editorial and the Top POEMS of 2017 article to my AFP Favorites page for quick future reference.