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To evaluate the frequency of antibiotic prescribing for common infections via telemedicine compared to face-to-face visits.
Systematic literature review and meta-analysis.
We searched PubMed, CINAHL, Embase (Elsevier platform) and Cochrane CENTRAL to identify studies comparing frequency of antibiotic prescribing via telemedicine and face-to-face visits without restrictions by publish dates or language used. We conducted meta-analyses of 5 infections: sinusitis, pharyngitis, otitis media, upper respiratory infection (URI) and urinary tract infection (UTI). Random-effect models were used to obtain pooled odds ratios (ORs). Heterogeneity was evaluated with I2 estimation and the Cochran Q statistic test.
Among 3,106 studies screened, 23 studies (1 randomized control study, 22 observational studies) were included in the systematic literature review. Most of the studies (21 of 23) were conducted in the United States. Studies were substantially heterogenous, but stratified analyses revealed that providers prescribed antibiotics more frequently via telemedicine for otitis media (pooled odds ratio [OR], 1.26; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.04–1.52; I2 = 31%) and pharyngitis (pooled OR, 1.16; 95% CI, 1.01–1.33; I2 = 0%). We detected no significant difference in the frequencies of antibiotic prescribing for sinusitis (pooled OR, 0.86; 95% CI, 0.70–1.06; I2 = 91%), URI (pooled OR, 1.18; 95% CI, 0.59–2.39; I2 = 100%), or UTI (pooled OR, 2.57; 95% CI, 0.88–7.46; I2 = 91%).
Telemedicine visits for otitis media and pharyngitis were associated with higher rates of antibiotic prescribing. The interpretation of these findings requires caution due to substantial heterogeneity among available studies. Large-scale, well-designed studies with comprehensive assessment of antibiotic prescribing for common outpatient infections comparing telemedicine and face-to-face visits are needed to validate our findings.
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