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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

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Doctors, Patients Rely on Antibiotics

The Myth of the Harmless Antibiotic

The WebMD/Medscape survey was done in June and included both consumers and health care professionals to better understand prescribing practices around antibiotics and knowledge of antibiotic resistance.

Patients AntibioticsThe online consumer survey included 1,174 people. The Medscape e-mail survey included 796 health care professionals. Both surveys had a +/- 2.9% margin of error.

Patients seen at an early stage of an upper respiratory infection typically turn out to have a virus, McQuillen says. While viral infections often get better in several days without medication, bacterial infections tend to linger and get worse. Many doctors write post-dated prescriptions for antibiotics just in case, telling patients to fill it in 3 or 4 days if their symptoms worsen.

In the survey, 49% of health care professionals say they occasionally write post-dated prescriptions, and another 4% say they did it most of the time. Among patients, 21% said they had occasionally received a delayed prescription. Of the patients who did get a post-dated prescription, 36.8% say they only filled it if needed. The same percentage say they generally didn’t fill it, and 11.7 % say they filled it but saved it for future use. Another 9% say they filled it just in case, but discarded it later because they didn’t need it.

"The rationale is sound, but whether it's effective, nobody knows," says infectious-disease expert Brad Spellberg, MD, of the University of Southern California. "It's a clinician trying to make the best of the bad situation."

Eighteen percent of patients say they save unused prescribed antibiotics at home for future use. Thirteen percent say they have taken antibiotics prescribed to another family member, and 13% say another family member has taken their antibiotics.

More than half of patients surveyed (53%) say their health care provider has talked to them about the dangers of antibiotic resistance.

Medscape Medical News writer Robert Lowes contributed to this report.

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