Virtual GP visits boost rate of antibiotic prescribing

Virtual consultations may raise antibiotic prescribing rates but could save healthcare costs, research suggests.

E-visits: virtual GP consultations increased antibiotic use
E-visits: virtual GP consultations increased antibiotic use

A US analysis of 'e-visits' to primary care practices found doctors were twice as likely to prescribe antibiotics for UTI when patients consulted online, and clinicians were less likely to order a follow-up test. This contributed to lower costs for e-visits than face-to-face consultations.

Researchers said the lack of face-to-face contact might encourage doctors to take a safer and more 'conservative' approach to care.

The DH announced last month that e-consultations were to become 'much more widely available' by 2015. The GPC has warned that 'major concerns about confidentiality' remain.

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh examined clinical care for sinusitis and UTI at four primary care centres whose patients can visit a secure website and answer questions about their condition, or attend surgery as usual. A clinician then makes a diagnosis or orders follow-up tests and replies to the patient.

Doctors prescribed antibiotics for UTI after 99% of e-visits, against 49% when face to face, researchers found. Sinusitis sufferers were also slightly more likely to receive antibiotics.

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