This past Sunday, 60 Minutes did a piece on the emergence of drug-resistant bacteria. One of the major contributing factors is the overprescription of antibiotics for non-bacterial infections:
While we can’t stop the bacteria from trying to outwit antibiotics, health officials say a dramatic cut in their use could help reverse the tide. That means doctors will have to stop writing, and patients will have to stop demanding, the 130 million prescriptions for antibiotics that are given out each year. Half of them are given to treat illnesses like the common cold that the drugs have no effect on.
The U.S. government started a public education campaign last fall, with a recommendation for pediatricians and parents: No antibiotics for most childhood ear infections. But even though most of those infections go away on their own, parents may not stand for that.
Patient education is key. With rising co-pays, patients expect more than “it’s a virus, you won’t need antibiotics” for their visit. Patients often demand something for their money – and in many cases, it is prescription medication. Physicians are under enormous pressure to see more patients – often it is easier to just write a prescription rather than spend 5 minutes educating someone on the dangers of antibiotic overprescription.
Then there is the liability. Many physicians won’t take the chance of a patient complaint for the small chance of an adverse effect from failing to give antibiotics. Unless something changes, I don’t see any improvement in the forseeable future.