Why You Are Still Taking Ineffective Antibiotics

Healthy Living

June 26, 2016

Leading Researcher From CDC and Prevention Says 1 in 3 Prescriptions Ineffective

Dr. Katherine Fleming-Dutra, a pediatrician and epidemiologist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that despite efforts being made to inform the public on the dangers of antibiotic overuse, that in the United States, doctor’s offices, hospital emergency rooms, and clinics are prescribing antibiotics that aren’t appropriate for the health conditions they are being prescribed for almost thirty percent of the time, according to a new study conducted by the federal government.

Dr. Katherine Fleming-Dutra is quoted as saying, “We were able to conclude that at least 30 percent of the antibiotics that are given in doctors’ offices, emergency departments and hospital-based clinics are unnecessary, meaning that no antibiotics were needed at all.”

At a time when there is growing concern over the marked increase of antibiotic resistant bacteria and super bugs, which happen to kill more than 23,000 people each year and infect more than two million, you would think both doctor and patient would be more mindful of over prescribing or demanding of antibiotics that have no curative value for the ailment that brought the patient in for treatment.

The research study showed that antibiotic treatment was most often misused in instances of respiratory illnesses that antibiotics are not effective in treating such as sore throats, colds, sinus and ear infections and bronchitis. Almost half of the prescriptions written for these conditions were ineffective treatment plans and were completely unnecessary.

Dr. Fleming-Dutra said the study included critical data compiled on 184,000 outpatient doctor visits during a national medical care survey conducted in 2010 through 2011, of which almost 13 percent of the sampled visits resulted in the doctor prescribing antibiotics for the patient. The study also revealed that in 2011 nearly 262 million out patient prescriptions were written in the United States, but until Dr. Fleming-Dutra and her colleagues conducted the study it was not known how many of those prescriptions were effective or appropriate.

In order to make a determination of the appropriateness of the reported cases that antibiotics were prescribed for, the research team utilized national treatment guidelines to flag conditions that should never be treated with antibiotics such as viral infections, sore throat, colds, and bronchitis, as well as bacterial infections capable of clearing up on their own or with home health OTC remedies for treatment of ailments such as ear and sinus infections. In the instances of sinus and ear infections there are national benchmarks for when antibiotics should be prescribed and that is the standard the researchers used to make their determination of appropriateness of treatment for these conditions.

What the researchers found was that in the instances of acute respiratory ailments for every 1,000 people who sought treatment 221 antibiotic prescriptions were dispensed, but only 111 were found to be useful or necessary. This information means that nearly half of the prescriptions written for respiratory illness were absolutely useless, and can contribute to our bodies becoming antibiotic resistant.

Furthermore, when conditions were examined collectively (includes sinus and ear infections) it was found that for every 1,000 patients seen in a year 506 antibiotic prescriptions were prescribed of which only 353 were deemed to be proper treatment and care. The results of the study were published in the May 3, 2016 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association along with an editorial written by Dr. Sara Cosgrove, associate professor of infectious diseases and epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.

Why Antibiotics Are Still Being Overprescribed

While the study cannot provide any conclusive evidence as to exactly why antibiotics are being overprescribed it is fairly easy to believe it is likely caused by a lack of proper communication between the patient and doctor. Patients often go to the doctor feeling really miserable and seeking relief of their symptoms, frequently asking the doctor for a Zpac or other antibiotic prescription to knock it out. Patients can sometimes be rather insistent with their doctor about receiving a prescription because they want the doctor to give them something to make them feel better, not realizing that an antibiotic is not going to help.

As for the physician’s part in overprescribing antibiotics, Dr. Fleming-Dutra had this to say, “Doctors think the patient wants antibiotics, and they want the patient to be satisfied with their care, so that often drives clinicians to prescribe when they shouldn’t.”

“Probably most patients can be satisfied without antibiotics, even if they expect them. But it takes more communication between the clinician and the patient to help everybody understand what’s best in those circumstances,” Dr. Fleming-Dutra surmised.


With better patient education, and this means the doctor informing his or her patients when antibiotic treatment will actually be effective and when it will do nothing to improve their condition it would seem an easy fix to this problem.

From a patient perspective be certain to ask the doctor why you are being prescribed antibiotics and how they will improve your condition. You also may want to ask if there is any alternative treatment that would be effective in treating your condition without the use of antibiotics. This is important in that the less you take antibiotics the less your resistance to them will be, making them more effective for the more serious illnesses that require antibiotics to cure.

Communication between doctor and patient is essential to good healthcare.