BackgroundPublicly-funded drug plans often use prior authorization policies to limit drug prescribing. To guide physician prescribing of a class of antibiotics with broad antimicrobial activity (quinolone antibiotics) in accordance with new prescribing guidelines, Alberta’s provincial health ministry implemented a new mechanism for formulary restriction entitled the optional special authorization (OSA) program. We conducted an observational study to determine the impact of this new formulary restriction policy on antimicrobial prescription rates as well as any clinical consequences.MethodsQuinolone antibiotic use, and adherence with quinolone prescribing guidelines, was assessed before and after implementation of the OSA program in patients with common outpatient infections using an administrative data cohort and a chart review cohort, respectively. At the same time this policy was implemented to limit quinolone prescribing, two new quinolone antibiotics were added to the formulary. Using administrative data, we analysed a total of 397,534 unique index visits with regard to overall antibiotic utilization, and through chart review, we analysed 1681 charts of patients with infections of interest to determine the indications for quinolone usage.ResultsUsing segmented regression models adjusting for age, sex and physician enrollment in the OSA program, there was no statistically significant change in the monthly rate of all quinolone use (−3.5 (95% CI −5.5, 1.4) prescriptions per 1000 index visits) following implementation of the OSA program (p = 0.74). There was a significant level change in the rate of quinolone antibiotic use for urinary tract infection (−33.6 (95% CI: -23.8, -43.4) prescriptions and upper respiratory tract infection (−16.1 (95%CI: -11.6, -20.6) prescriptions per 1000 index visits. Among quinolone prescriptions identified on chart review, 42.5% and 58.5% were consistent with formulary guidelines before and after the implementation of the OSA program, respectively (p = 0.002). There was no change in hospitalization, mortality or use of physician services after implementation of the OSA program.ConclusionsDespite the addition of two new quinolone antibiotics to the formulary, we found that there was no change in the use of quinolones after implementation of a new formulary restriction policy for outpatients with common outpatient infections.