Doctors often prescribe unneeded antibiotics to save their time


According to a recent research study, many medical doctors knowingly prescribe unneeded antibiotics to children because they think it's easier and faster than telling parents why the medicine isn't necessary. Ironically, the researchers found that it would have taken them no longer to properly educate the parents rather than put the children at risk from unnecessary drugs.

Researchers analyzed 2,076 office visits for children under the age of 18 who were seen by a primary care physician for a cold, upper respiratory infection, bronchitis, or bronchiolitis from 1993 to 2000, as reported in the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey. Although they found that inappropriate antibiotic prescribing (IAP) occurred in 883 cases, or 43%, they noted almost no difference between the length of time those visits took and the length of visits where no antibiotics were prescribed.

Other factors which appeared to influence antibiotic use included private insurance coverage or self-payment, a diagnosis of bronchitis, or other symptoms such as fever, cough, or sore throat. Non-pediatrician providers were more likely to prescribe antibiotics, as were doctors in the South or Midwest and those who practiced in non-metropolitan areas.

"Inappropriate antibiotic prescribing is a significant public health problem," said principal investigator Marion E. Hare, M.D., of The University of Tennessee Health Science Center. "Providers must take the lead in educating their patients about the proper use of these medicines. To do so takes little or no more time than simply writing a prescription would take."

Antibiotics are drugs that fight bacterial infections but are ineffective against viruses, such as the common cold and flu. According to The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), nearly all bacterial infections in the United States and throughout the world are becoming resistant, largely due to the inappropriate use of these medicines. In 1995, the CDC launched a national campaign to educate providers and the public about the dangers of inappropriate antibiotic use.

The results of the study were presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies' Annual Meeting in May 2003.

SOURCE: University of Tennessee Health Science Center, May 4, 2003.

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