Antibiotic Overuse Highlighted in Outpatient Care Study

New research raises serious concerns about the wide-spread overuse of antibiotics, suggesting that many Americans are being inappropriately prescribed the drugs during a doctor’s visit. 

In a study published this week in the The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers sampled data from doctor’s visits across the country and found antibiotics were prescribed when they shouldn’t have been, or where a course of antibiotics was not prescribed for long enough, in nearly 30 percent of cases.

The study focused on data from the 2010 to 2011 National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey and National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey. Doctors who participated in the surveys provided details of patient visits for one to four weeks each year, including prescriptions and patient diagnoses.

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Researchers focused on 184,032 sampled visits, of which more than 12 percent resulted in antibiotic prescriptions. Out of every 1,000 outpatient visits annually involving acute respiratory conditions, 221 resulted in antibiotic prescriptions. Researchers say only 111 of the antibiotic prescriptions were estimated to be appropriate for the diagnosed conditions.

In the new study, researchers determined 506 patients of every 1,000 patients were prescribed antibiotics every year from 2010 to 2011. Of the overall prescriptions, 353 antibiotic prescriptions, or half of the annual prescriptions, were estimated to be appropriate.

Sinusitis, or sinus infection, had the most antibiotic prescriptions per 1,000 patients. That was followed by suppurative otitis media, pharyngitis, and other respiratory diagnoses.

For this study, researchers assumed antibiotics were necessary for urinary tract infections and pneumonia, even though those conditions don’t always require antibiotics in outpatient settings.

The study deemed an antibiotic prescription inappropriate if the patient should not have taken antibiotics at all for their condition or did not receive a long enough course or correct dose to effectively cure an infection.

Superbugs A Growing Concern

Using antibiotics inappropriately contributes to the emergence of resistant strains of bacteria, making it more difficult to treat infections. Research published in March by the CDC indicates one-in-seven hospital acquired infections are now antibiotic resistant, focusing scrutiny on the way doctors treat antibiotic resistant infections, especially with unnecessary rounds of antibiotics.

Other research indicates more than 23,000 Americans die each year from antibiotic resistant bacteria and 2 million become sick due to the so called superbugs every year.

A report issued by the British government warns antibiotic-resistant bacteria will cause nearly 10 million deaths each year by the year 2050, unless drastic measures are taken to address the growing concern of using antibiotics improperly.

A study published in 2014found that the common practice of treating resistant pathogens with aggressive doses of antibiotics does not help treat the infection, but contributes to the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Last year, the White House announced a plan to address the growing problem of the emergence of superbugs and outlined a five year plan to fight the spread of resistant bacteria, including encouraging drug makers to create rapid diagnostic tests and develop new drugs.


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