When patients in the emergency department (ED) are diagnosed with influenza by means of a rapid test, they get fewer unnecessary antibiotics, are prescribed antiviral medications more frequently, and have fewer additional lab tests compared to patients diagnosed with influenza without testing, according to a new study. Published online in the Journal of the Pediatrics Infectious Diseases Society, the findings suggest that diagnosing influenza with a rapid diagnostic test leads to more appropriate, specific, and efficient care.
In the study, researchers used data from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, a nationally representative sample of ED visits in the U.S. They identified children and adults across three influenza seasons (2007-2009) who were diagnosed with influenza in the ED. They looked at how the patients were diagnosed-either with the use of a rapid influenza test or without it-and the subsequent care they received.
Among patients diagnosed with influenza without rapid testing, 23 percent of the ED visits included a prescription for antibiotics, which are not effective in treating influenza, a viral infection. However, for patients who were diagnosed by rapid testing, only 11 percent of ED visits resulted in the patient getting antibiotics. Additional laboratory tests, including chest X-rays, blood tests, and urinalysis, were also ordered less frequently for patients whose influenza illness was diagnosed with a rapid test.
Notably, prescriptions for antiviral drugs, which can be effective in treating influenza when used early and appropriately, were more frequent (56 percent of ED visits) among patients diagnosed with influenza using a rapid test, compared to antiviral use among influenza patients diagnosed without testing (19 percent of ED visits).