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Doctors, Patients Rely on Antibiotics

By Ashley Hayes
WebMD Health News

June 27, 2014 -- While both health care professionals and the public seem to be aware of the problem of antibiotic resistance, a new survey shows that when it comes to your personal health, it may be a different story.

According to a new WebMD/Medscape survey, some 95% of health care professionals say they sometimes prescribe antibiotics to patients even when they aren’t sure they’re needed.

Doctors prescribe antibioticsMore than half of health care professionals (53%) say they're “certain enough” to prescribe them, and only 12% do it most of the time. Others who prescribe them say they aren’t sure whether a patient’s illness is viral or bacterial, and the lab work to determine that may take too long. Eleven percent say they believe an antibiotic won’t hurt and could help.

Those most likely to prescribe antibiotics were emergency doctors (24.4%), followed by family medicine doctors (23.6%), although the percentages did not vary widely among the specialities included:  internal medicine, pediatrics, and women’s health.

Patients, meanwhile, say they sometimes ask for antibiotics when they’re not sure they're needed, most often for themselves (21%).When told that antibiotics aren't needed, 72% say they accepted that advice. But 9% say they were asked if they still wanted antibiotics even if they weren’t needed, and accepted them.

Only 3% said they were denied antibiotics after being told they weren’t needed and requesting them again.

While most people understand the concept of antibiotic resistance, they still think the drugs will help them feel better and get them back to work as soon as possible.

Eighty-five percent of patients say they requested antibiotics because they felt it would cure their illness, and 65% say they asked for them in order to feel better quickly. Forty-four percent say they needed to get back to work as soon as possible. And 25% say they believe antibiotics always work, no matter the illness.

Daniel McQuillen, MD, a past chairman of the clinical affairs committee of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, says the results show that both doctors and consumers need better education about how to use antibiotics. At least 2 million people get infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year, resulting in at least 23,000 deaths, according to the CDC. The World Health Organization calls antibiotic resistance "an increasingly serious threat to global public health that requires action across all government sectors and society."

"It's clear that we're approaching a cliff with antibiotic resistance,” says CDC director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. “But it's not too late. Clinicians and health care systems need to improve prescribing practices. And patients need to recognize that there are both risks and benefits to antibiotics — more medicine isn't best; the right medicine at the right time is best."

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