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Antibiotics Prescribed Without Infection Diagnosis Nearly Half The Time: Study

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More than half of antibiotic prescriptions are given to patients who don’t have an accompanying infection diagnosis, according to new research that highlights the widespread overuse of the medications and mounting concerns about antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” that may emerge. 

In a study presented at IDWeek 2018, the annual meeting of infectious disease specialists, researchers from Northwestern University analyzed 510,000 antibiotic prescriptions given at 514 medical clinics over a 2 year period, reviewing patient records. According to the findings, more than half of the individuals given antibiotics did not have an infection-related diagnosis documented in their medical records, and 20% of the prescriptions were given without even a doctor’s visit.

The findings are considered preliminary until published in a peer reviewed journal, but echo those of another recent study that found recent warnings and efforts to combat overuse of the drugs have not stemmed the antibiotic overprescribing problems in the U.S..

Antibiotic use when not medically necessary has been identified as a contributing factor in the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.

The new study data indicates that a total of 46% of antibiotic prescriptions were given with no documented diagnosis of infection. Another 29% of cases had a diagnosis which didn’t call for antibiotics, such as high blood pressure. Additionally, the researchers discovered 17% of prescriptions had no diagnosis at all.

Among all prescriptions, one in five were given over the phone, without an office visit.

Researchers say it remains unclear how many of the prescriptions were actually inappropriate. Some could be necessary, but simply a part of bad coding or inaccurate record keeping.

Prior reports have suggested that doctors often prescribe antibiotics too easily, and prescribe them for viral ailments that can’t be treated by antibiotics, including upper respiratory problems like bronchitis.

Doctors also often prescribe longer courses and higher doses than necessary. A recent study indicated nearly half of urgent care visits result in an antibiotic prescription.

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