Shift to Prescribing Fewer Antibiotics
Getting doctors to prescribe fewer antibiotics is a major challenge. Patients often believe they need these medicines and research shows that, when this is the case, doctors frequently prescribe them even when they, themselves, aren’t sure they’re appropriate. It’s understandable for patients to want antibiotics. When a bacterial infection is the problem, nothing is as effective. The fact is, antibiotics have saved countless lives. But most illnesses do not require antibiotics. The most frequent reason people visit a doctor is respiratory infection — sore throats, coughs, runny noses and the like. These are usually viruses. Unfortunately, even when doctors suggest patients treat such illnesses as viruses, patients often insist they need an antibiotic, and doctors too often acquiesce. About 90% of all prescriptions for antibiotics are written by general practitioners, with respiratory illness being the leading reason.
In addition to contributing to antibiotic resistance, unnecessary prescription of antibiotics needlessly exposes patients to risks. These run the gamut from minor allergic reactions to Clostridium difficile diarrhea, which can be deadly. About 20% of all drug-related emergency room visits in the U.S. are attributable to antibiotics. Approximately 80% of these are for allergic reactions, but common antibiotics have also been known to trigger other conditions, including gastrointestinal, neurologic and psychiatric disorders, and even life-threatening hepatotoxicity. Further, the over prescription of antibiotics has been shown to increase doctor and emergency room visits for conditions that did not require antibiotics in the first place.