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U.S. doctors still over-prescribing drugs

Staff Writer |
Despite evidence that certain drugs aren't always necessary, doctors are still prescribing these treatments, a new survey of doctors reveals.

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Antibiotics are by far the drugs most frequently used in situations where they'll provide no value for patients.

The survey found that more than a quarter of doctors surveyed (27 percent) said that antibiotics are often administered to patients when the drugs will do no good.

In most cases, the antibiotics are prescribed to treat upper respiratory infections even though these are most often caused by viruses unaffected by the medication, said Dr. Amir Qaseem.

He's vice president of clinical policy for the American College of Physicians (ACP) and chair of the ACP's High Value Care Task Force.

Other treatments that doctors use frequently despite their questionable value include aggressive treatments for terminally ill patients (9 percent), drugs prescribed for chronic pain (7 percent), and dietary supplements such fish oil and multivitamins (5 percent), the survey revealed.

"There is a lot of waste in our health care system, and we need to acknowledge that," Qaseem said.

The results are from a random survey of 5,000 ACP member physicians. The survey asked doctors to identify two treatments frequently used by internists that were unlikely to provide high value care to patients.

"Value is not the same as cost," Qaseem said. "High value is a function of the benefits, harms and cost of an intervention all together. Just because something is very expensive does not make it a poor value. There are expensive treatments that provide high value."

Antibiotics were most commonly cited as being used under questionable circumstances, despite mounting concern regarding the rise of antibiotic-resistant "superbugs."

In the United States, at least 2 million people a year are infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, and at least 23,000 die as a direct result of these infections, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC itself estimates that as much as one-half of antibiotic use in humans is either unnecessary or inappropriate.

An estimated 47 million unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions are handed out in the United States each year, the agency said.


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