The overuse of antibiotics is now a well-recognised issue, however, it seems old habits are hard to break. A recent study published in the Medical Journal of Australia found that antibiotics were still being heavily prescribed (up to nine times the recommended rate) for some medical conditions for which they are not recommended, such as chest colds caused by acute bronchitis, and overprescribed in conditions like tonsillitis and acute pharyngitis (sore throat).
One of the chief concerns with overprescribing antibiotics is the proliferation of antibiotic resistant ‘superbugs’ which can result in untreatable infections and the fear that, in the decades to come, one of the cornerstones of modern medicine may fail us. It is predicted that deaths from currently treatable infections will overtake deaths caused by all types of cancer by 2050. Of further concern is that commonly performed surgical procedures like hip replacements or caesarians will become too dangerous to perform without reliable antibiotics.
So why are antibiotics still heavily overprescribed? Studies by Bond University’s Centre for Research in Evidence Based Practice (CREBP) have found one of the most common reasons for antibiotic overprescribing seems to be the difficulty in differentiating between fairly innocuous acute respiratory infections and the early stages of more serious infections. In other words, it’s safer and quicker to write a script for an antibiotic and send a patient on their way than to run the risk of potentially getting the diagnosis wrong.
GPs also talk about feeling under pressure to satisfy patients’ expectations of getting a ‘silver bullet’, when waiting a few days and letting a virus run its course is the much better option. CREBP also found that GPs also over inflate the benefits of medical treatments generally, which has fed the misconceptions about the effectiveness of antibiotics.
It would seem a more collaborative approach between GPs and their patients is needed, where the pros and cons of using antibiotics in any particular case is openly discussed and the responsibility for decisions made about appropriate medication is shared. Health professionals must take the lead in challenging our perceptions about antibiotics, and patients may need to readjust their expectations so that when we really do need the lifesaving benefits of antibiotics, we will be able to rely on them.
Editor’s note: Our rotating wellbeing and fitness columns provide advice that is general in nature. Please always refer to your preferred health professional for advice suited to your personal healthcare requirements.