Denver Health to Receive Over $6M to Study Improving Care for Children with Ear Infections

March 28, 2023

DENVER The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) has awarded Denver Health nearly $6.6 million in research funding to study how to improve care for children with ear infections. About 85% of ear infections clear up on their own; however, over 95% of children are being prescribed an antibiotic even though they probably don’t need one. Not only do many children experience side effects from antibiotics such as diarrhea, rash and nausea, antibiotic use during childhood is also associated with chronic diseases later in life like asthma and inflammatory bowel disease. Additionally, unnecessary antibiotic use to treat ear infections can also build antibiotic resistance, which can make it harder to treat future infections with antibiotics when they’re needed most.

The five-year study will compare two programs to evaluate the best way to decrease the use of unnecessary antibiotics among children with ear infections. The first program will aim to change clinicians’ behavior of prescribing antibiotics and educate them about only providing them to the small percentage of children who need them. While the other program will engage with parents on working with their child’s clinician to decide the best treatment plan. This can include giving parents the option to give their child acetaminophen or ibuprofen to manage the pain until the ear infection improves on its own.

“At the end of the day, parents have to told us they really want to know how they can control their child’s pain and get tips on what to do if an ear infection is not improving,” said Holly Frost, MD, a Denver Health pediatrician, and lead researcher for the study. “We’ve heard from many parents they don’t want their child to receive an antibiotic unless it is necessary. For every hundred children with an ear infection treated with an antibiotic, it’s estimated fewer than 15 will benefit while over 26 will experience harm.”

Denver Health’s primary care clinics are leading the study. A few other clinics outside the Denver Health network will also participate including Intermountain Healthcare and Community Health Centers of AllianceChicago. Additionally, the Denver Health Foundation directed almost $400,000 in funding toward Dr. Frost’s early work on this antibiotic research.

The study was selected for PCORI funding through a highly competitive review process in which patients, caregivers and other stakeholders joined scientists to evaluate the proposals. PCORI’s program is designed to support research that produces results that are broadly applicable to a diverse range of patients and care situations and can be more quickly taken up in routine clinical practice. In addition to Denver Health pediatrician Dr. Frost serving as lead researcher, other Denver Health staff on the research team for the study include Debbie Rinehart, PhD, Tim Jenkins, C MD, and Amy Stein, lead biostatistician.

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About Denver Health

Denver Health is a comprehensive health and hospital system that provides high-quality care for all Denver residents, regardless of their ability to pay. We deliver medical care to one-third of Denver’s population, proudly serving as the city’s safety-net hospital and providing preventive, primary and acute care services. For more than 160 years, Denver Health has been deeply rooted in the health and well-being of the community, providing high-quality clinical care, top-notch education and training for health care workers, and furthering critical research to benefit our patients. We are guided by our mission to serve our community with excellence, compassion, and stewardship as we work to ensure all people have access to the care and programs they need to be happy, healthy and successful.

About PCORI

PCORI is an independent, nonprofit organization authorized by Congress in 2010. Its mission is to fund research that will provide patients, their caregivers and clinicians with the evidence-based information needed to make better informed healthcare decisions.  

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