Doctors are more likely to prescribe antibiotics if they think patients expect the drugs, a new study finds.
That’s true even if the doctor doesn’t think the patient has a bacterial infection, which means antibiotics would be ineffective, the researchers said.
The study included more than 400 doctors in the United Kingdom. The researchers conducted two experiments and presented physicians with different scenarios where they had to decide if they would prescribe antibiotics. Doctors were more likely to do so if patients had high expectations of receiving antibiotics.
The study was published Feb. 16 in the journal Health Psychology.
Improper and excessive use of antibiotics has been linked to antibiotic resistance, a major health threat worldwide.
“Much effort has been spent encouraging physicians to adhere to clinical guidelines when prescribing antibiotics. However, with few notable exceptions, these efforts rarely address the non-clinical factors, such as how to tackle patients’ expectations,” study author Miroslav Sirota said in a journal news release.
“We do not intend our study to criticize physicians and how they prescribe antibiotics,” added Sirota, who’s with the University of Essex.
“Rather, we want to point out that the overprescribing of antibiotics is a serious systemic issue,” he said.
Sirota added that physicians and patients should work together to solve the problem. Patients need to have more realistic expectations about when antibiotics could help. And, doctors need to manage patients’ expectations if they contradict clinical guidelines.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on antibiotic resistance.