Speed Reads

Evidence-based medicine

Physicians are not innocent in antibiotic overuse

Dire predictions of the consequences of antibiotic overuse are commonplace. Ninety-seven percent of doctors are worried about it. If we lose antibiotics, then say goodbye not just to treatments for bacterial and fungal infections, but also organ transplants, most cancer treatments, most large-scale surgery, even tattoos.

One common narrative for this situation goes that anxious and ignorant ordinary people are to blame, demanding antibiotics for every little ailment regardless of source, or failing to take the full course of their prescriptions. There is surely some truth to this, but as Aaron Carroll explains, it's not the whole story. Common perceptions that antibiotics immediately reduce infectiousness are to blame, as well as physicians themselves.

Most strikingly, one study on physician behavior found they prescribed antibiotics to patients who didn't want them 29 percent of the time. It's high time doctors took a look at their own culpability in antibiotic overuse — the stakes are high indeed. --Ryan Cooper