Another study finds doctors overprescribe antibiotics

Only 10% of sore throats are antibiotic-worthy. Why are 60% being prescribed drugs?

Physicians continue to over-prescribe antibiotics—despite a growing body of evidence linking the practice with the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria—according to new research presented at the IDWeek 2013 national meeting.

According to Michael Barnett and Jeffrey Linder of Brigham and Women's Hospital, doctors are writing far more prescriptions of antibiotics for sore throat and acute bronchitis than necessary. In a letter published in JAMA Internal Medicine, the two physicians say they found that while only 10% of U.S. adults with sore throats have a Streptococcus infection—commonly known as strep throat—about 60% of them are prescribed antibiotics for the infection.

"You have a viral infection for which the antibiotics are not going to help, and you're putting a chemical in your body that has a very real chance of hurting you," Linder told CNN's "The Chart," adding that side effects can include diarrhea, vaginitis, and negative interactions with other medications.

For their research, the physicians analyzed data from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey and the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey on more than 8,000 U.S. patients who presented sore throats.

The researchers found that among the 60% of patients that were prescribed antibiotics for strep throat between 1997 and 2010, 9% were prescribed penicillin about every year, while a growing number of patients were prescribed the more costly alternative azithromycin. From 2009 to 2010, about 15% of patients were prescribed azithromycin.

The researchers also found that physicians increasingly prescribed antibiotics for acute bronchitis—about 73% of cases ended in a prescription—despite confirmed research that antibiotics do not help the condition. Linder added that trends like these are disturbing because they support research showing that community levels of antibiotic use are related to rates of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

"People may have infections that are harder to treat down the line because we're overusing antibiotics today," Linder said. He added, "I think there's a discussion that should be happening between patient and doctor that doesn't happen, that automatically leads to an antibiotic prescription" (Landau, "The Chart," CNN, 10/3).

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