Why Do Black Children Receive Fewer Antibiotics

A new study shows that Black children are less likely to be prescribed antibiotics by the same physician than their non-Black peers. And while researchers note that this may not necessarily be a bad thingother children may be receiving too many antibioticsthe study does suggest that race comes in to play, either consciously or unconsciously, when physicians pull out their prescription pads.


Researchers at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) looked at the records of 200,000 children seen by 222 doctors at 25 offices in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. They found that Black children were about 25 percent less likely to receive an antibiotic for a respiratory infection than were a group of predominantly white children.

In this case, the disparity may not be such a negative, according to lead researcher Dr. Jeffrey Gerber of CHOP. “We hypothesize that this discrepancy reflects over-prescribing, both for all antibiotics and for the relative proportion of broad-spectrum antibiotics, to non-black patients, rather than under-prescribing to black patients,” wrote Dr. Gerber in the journal Pediatrics.

Gerber and the other study authors said that part of the discrepancy might come from parents of white children asking for antibiotics more often, with doctors following that lead. But according to the Centers for Disease Control, if antibiotics are used too often for things they can’t treatlike colds or other viral infectionsthey can stop working effectively when they are needed.

One of the reasons the researchers conducted this study was to determine whether previous instances of racial or ethnic disparities in care were part of a pattern. Some of the differential care for children that has been uncovered within the past year includes:

As more Blacks and Latinos gain equitable access to care under the Affordable Care Act and as hospitals are reimbursed based on patient outcomes, it will be interesting to see if these patterns change. It’s likely that they will.

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