NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 6, 2006

Prescribing antibiotics has become so common that many doctors literally are just phoning it in, a new analysis of insurance claims suggests.

According to William Marder, senior vice president and general manager of Thomson Medstat, and the study's author, 40 percent of people who filled an antibiotic prescription had not seen a doctor in at least a month, which can lead to several problems, including:

  • The possibility that their symptoms are the result of a viral infection, which doesn't respond to antibiotics, instead of a bacterial infection, which does.
  • Overprescribing, which can help produce drug-resistant "superbugs."

Marder says the study is just a broad indicator of too great a willingness to prescribe antibiotics, and calls for new treatment guidelines for doctors who increasingly are likely to evaluate patients by phone and the Internet.

Others say there are many situations where doctors call in antibiotic prescriptions and refills without cause for alarm.  For example:

  • James Sargent, Dartmouth pediatrics professor, says his practice often calls in prescriptions for antibiotic drops for pinkeye and pills for sore throats in people who have a family member diagnosed with strep throat.
  • Randall Stafford, associate professor at Stanford's Prevention Research Center, also acknowledges that phoned-in antibiotic prescriptions are acceptable in some situations, such as for women with repeat urinary tract infections.

Source: Rita Rubin, "Study: Doctors call in more antibiotics without exams," USA Today, December 6, 2006.

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