Emergency room and urgent care physicians often prescribe antibiotics for common viral infections, such as acute bronchitis and upper respiratory infections.
But researchers say those conditions usually resolve on their own and are best treated with over-the counter medications, and other remedies.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will fund a year-long study for researchers at UC Davis Medical Center to test out ways to reduce unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions and preserve the effectiveness of the medication.
"The goal of this study is really to try to combat antibiotic resistance and to improve patient safety really by sending the message and trying to test strategies to help reduce these unnecessary prescriptions," says Larissa May, director of emergency department antibiotic stewardship at UC Davis.
The multi-center study will include emergency departments and urgent care centers at UC Davis, Harbor - UCLA and Children's Hospital Colorado.
May will assign providers at each center one of two intervention models to reduce prescribing practices.
The first model offers educational materials for patients and providers, and monthly summaries of appropriate and inappropriate antibiotic prescribing practices to department leaders.
The other intervention includes behavorial approaches that include personalized posters in patient care areas with physicians' photos and their signed public commitment to antibiotic stewardship, and monthly performance rankings for each physician.
May says 75 percent of adults with acute bronchitis and 45 percent of children with viral upper respiratory infections are treated with antibiotics in emergency departments.
"If you get an antibiotic that's unnecessary as a patient you are at risk of harm from that antibiotic. For example, the adverse events like allergic reactions and severe diarrhea, life-threatening drug resistant infections that you may develop," she says.
The CDC says, antibiotic resistant bacteria cause two million illnesses and approximately 23,000 deaths in the U-S each year.