ACHA Clinical Benchmarking Program

Acute Care Module

Acute Care Measure: Appropriate Treatment for Pharyngitis

The information on this page is intended to help you complete the Acute Care Module of the Clinical Benchmarking Program. A worksheet is offered for each of the three measures in the Acute Care Module to help you organize your submission before entering it directly into the Clinical Benchmarking Program Data Input Tool. Once you have completed all three worksheets for this module, please use the link provided in your email invitation to submit the information compiled in the worksheet to ACHA. If you need help accessing the unique link for your institution, please contact ACHA Research Director Victor Leino.

Download Background, Instructions, and Worksheet [pdf]       Download Background, Instructions, and Worksheet [doc]


Acute pharyngitis is one of the most common outpatient infections treated in office practice and college health.1 Although there is conflicting data on the percentages, there is agreement that the majority of the cases of pharyngitis are caused by viruses. The most common bacterial causes of pharyngitis are group A, C, and G streptococci and, less commonly, Fusobacterium necrophorum and chlamydia species.2 Only 20% of cases are found to have a bacterial cause, and of these, perhaps 10% are caused by group A streptococci.3 A problem has been the continued overprescribing of antibiotics for viral pharyngitis. Another important issue is the recognition of more serious complications of pharyngitis, including Lemierre syndrome that is caused by F. necrophorum rather than group A strep.

In office practice, many different clinical and office-based testing algorithms have been used to identify patients with group A streptococci in order to effectively treat them. One of the most common was developed by Dr. Robert Centor and is known as the "Centor Criteria."4 The criterion in adults looks at four characteristics:

  1. Presence of fever
  2. Presence of tender cervical adenopathy
  3. Presence of tonsillar exudates
  4. Absence of cough

When all four are present, the probability of subsequent testing (routine throat culture) showing the person has a group A strep infection goes up, whereas when only 0-1 are present, the criteria is highly accurate in its negative predictability (~80%).

A review of U.S. and European guidelines in 2010 showed great variability in recommendations for both testing using rapid antigen testing/cultures and treatment with antibiotics.7 In the original recommendations published in 2001 in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the authors recommended a strategy of either treating all patients with a Centor score of 3-4 OR treating all with a Centor score of 4 and performing a rapid strep test on those with a score of 2-3 AND not treating those with a score of 0-1.3 The Infectious Disease Society of America (IDSA) recommends testing with a rapid strep test or culture prior to treatment with antibiotics.5 The one point on which both agree is that those students with a low pre-test probability of having group A strep pharyngitis should not be tested and should not be treated with antibiotics.6 When treating, Penicillin VK is still the drug of choice, but alternatives may need to be used based on the patient's allergies or local resistance patterns.


Each health center should review random charts of eligible patients seen over the past 12 months with a diagnosis of "acute pharyngitis" or whose primary complaint is sore throat. (ICD-10-CM codes include: J02.9 or reason for visit was sore throat). 

Each patient should have a Centor score of 0-1 either on the chart or calculated from the history and physical exam. Review enough charts to get to 25 charts with a Centor Score.

For each patient, determine whether an appropriate antibiotic was prescribed or not.

Compliance with Centor Criteria for Pharyngitis

A chart should be considered in compliance with guidelines when:

  1. Antibiotics are NOT prescribed AND a culture-rapid strep antigen testing is NOT ordered for those with Centor scores of 0-1

A chart should be considered in non-compliance with the guidelines when:

  1. Antibiotics ARE prescribed OR
  2. Testing IS ordered for those with Centor scores of 0-1


1Schappert, SM, Rechtsteiner, EA. Ambulatory medical care utilization estimates for 2006. Natl Health Stat Report Aug 6 2008; 1-29.

2Snow, V, Mottur-Pilson, C, Cooper, RJ, Hoffman, JR. Principles of appropriate antibiotic use for acute pharyngitis in adults. Ann Intern Med 2001; 134:506.

3Cooper RJ; Hoffman JR; Bartlett JG; Besser RE; Gonzales R; Hickner JM; Sande MA. Principles of appropriate antibiotic use for acute pharyngitis in adults: background. Ann Intern Med 2001 Mar 20;134(6):509-17.

4Centor RM; Witherspoon JM; Dalton HP; Brody CE; Link K. The diagnosis of strep throat in adults in the emergency room. Med Decis Making 1981;1(3):239-46.

5Bisno, AL, Gerber, MA, Gwaltney, JM Jr, et al. Practice guidelines for the diagnosis and management of group A streptococcal pharyngitis. Infectious Diseases Society of America. Clin Infect Dis 2002; 35:113.

6Linder et al. Evaluation and treatment of pharyngitis in primary care practice: the difference between guidelines is largely academic. Arch Intern Med (2006) vol. 166 (13) pp. 1374-9.

7Chiappini, E et al. Analysis of Different Recommendations from International Guidelines for the Management of Acute Pharyngitis in Adults and Children. Clinical Therapeutics. 33(1) Jan 2011. p. 48-58.