Risky antibiotic use threatens patients


A new study suggests that patients are willing to use antibiotics without contacting a doctor. Here’s how execs can curb this and avoid antibiotic resistance.

Patients are willing to use antibiotics without contacting a medical professional, according to a study published in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy. 

Related: Antibiotic stewardship programs: 4 case studies

This behavior can lead to overuse and misuse of antibiotics, and could lead to antibiotic resistance.

From April to August last year, study coauthor Larissa Grigoryan, an instructor in the department of family and community medicine, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, and colleagues surveyed 400 patients from a socioeconomically and ethnically diverse primary care population in the waiting rooms of three primary care clinics around Houston, asking about their use of antibiotics in the past year. Two were public family medicine clinics serving diverse, mostly uninsured or underinsured patients. The third clinic served primarily managed care and privately insured patients.

Among the surveyed respondents, 5% had used antibiotics without a prescription in the prior 12 months. Overall, 25.4% said they would take antibiotics without consulting a medical professional, and 14.2% reported storing antibiotics at home, most of which were saved from previous prescriptions.

These rates were similar across race/ethnicity groups, according to the authors. “Sources of antibiotics used without prescriptions or stored for future use were stores or pharmacies in the U.S., ‘leftover’ antibiotics from previous prescriptions, antibiotics obtained abroad, or from a relative or friend. Respiratory symptoms were common reasons for using non-prescription antibiotics,” the authors wrote.


“Respondents from public primary care clinics were more likely to endorse intended use than were private clinic patients,” Grigoryan says. “One of the reasons that one in four persons surveyed would take antibiotic without a prescription may be that it is inconvenient, difficult, or expensive to see a provider in a clinic setting.”

Executives may wish to consider whether medical care in their system could be made more accessible, patient-friendly, and available on demand, according to Grigoryan. “Perhaps telemedicine and electronic communication could fill this gap in many cases. If these patients were able to access a medical provider in a timely and convenient manner, in many cases the provider might deliver the reassuring message that antibiotics are not needed for many common scenarios-such as for colds and sinusitis-thus saving the patient the inconvenience, risk and expense of taking unnecessary antibiotics.”

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