Another example would be a prescription refill for someone taking antibiotics for acne, Linder said. But for the most part, he added, patients should be seen in the office before getting an antibiotic.
Linder was to present the findings Friday at IDWeek 2018, an annual meeting of infectious disease specialists, in San Francisco. In general, studies presented at meetings are considered preliminary until they are published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Dr. Ebbing Lautenbach, chief of the infectious diseases division at the University of Pennsylvania, agreed the study can’t show whether all of the prescriptions were actually inappropriate. “But this certainly raises concerns that antibiotics are often prescribed for reasons that are unclear,” he added.
Lautenbach said patients should feel free to ask questions when an antibiotic is prescribed. “Sometimes an antibiotic is an appropriate choice, and sometimes it’s not. Providers should explain, ‘Here’s why I think an antibiotic is necessary.’ And there should be a discussion of the pros and cons of taking one,” he suggested.
Besides the public health issue of antibiotic resistance, the drugs can also have side effects for any one person, like nausea and diarrhea, and interactions with other medications, Lautenbach noted.
Linder said his team plans to take a “deeper dive” into their data, to learn more about the conditions doctors were treating with antibiotics.
For now, Linder said there could be multiple reasons that doctors would prescribe an antibiotic even if there is no definite diagnosis of a bacterial infection. Time demands, for example, may push some doctors to throw an antibiotic at a sore throat.
In some cases, Linder said, a patient might insist on an antibiotic, and the doctor gives in.
“But I think that more often, the problem is the doctor’s perception that patients want antibiotics,” he said.
Linder suggested that patients take a more proactive role when it comes to the medications.
“You can tell your doctor that you only want an antibiotic if it’s really necessary,” he said. “That will automatically shift the doctor’s default position on it.”