Ambulatory antibiotic stewardship policies focus on prescribing decisions made when patients present to clinicians with possible infections. They do not capture antibiotics prescribed outside of clinician visits or without clear indications for use. Antibiotic prescribing for vulnerable patients in the US has not been comprehensively measured. We measured the frequency with which all filled antibiotic prescriptions were associated with infections and in-person visits for Medicaid patients in the period 2004–13. We found that among 298 million antibiotic fills (62 percent for children) for 53 million patients, 55 percent were for clinician visits with an infection-related diagnosis, 17 percent were for clinician visits without an infection-related diagnosis, and 28 percent were not associated with a visit. Non-visit-based antibiotic prescriptions were less common for children than for adults and more common in the West than in other US regions. Large fractions of antibiotic prescriptions are filled without evidence of infection-related diagnoses or accompanying clinician visits. Current ambulatory antibiotic stewardship policies miss about half of antibiotic prescribing.
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