Who Gets Antibiotics?

Antibiotics were among the most important inventions of the 20th century, but their very success has led to overuse.

Whether or not your child leaves a doctor’s visit with an antibiotic prescription sometimes depends on who your doctor is as much as it depends on your child’s illness. Antibiotics were among the most important inventions of the 20th century, but their very success has led to overuse.

The situation is improving year by year, but doctors still treat far too many kids with antibiotics for viral conditions where there is no proven benefit, such as for upper respiratory tract infections, the common cold, bronchitis, and bronchiolitis. Staff physicians in clinics are almost twice as likely as interns or residents in clinics to prescribe antibiotics for these conditions, according to a study in the March 2005, Pediatrics.

Almost 2000 children who were diagnosed with viral respiratory infections were included in the study. About 33 percent of the kids were treated with antibiotics! Those treated at clinics at teaching hospitals were less likely to get them than those at non-teaching hospitals. But the biggest difference, by far, was that young doctors in training . residents and interns . were the least likely to overuse antibiotics.

When it comes to doctors, there is great value in seasoning and experience, but also great value in youth and education on the cutting edge. What I told parents in 1998 still holds true, – I will teach you one sentence that can greatly improve your child’s health. Use this tool before the doctor even examines your child. When you are explaining why you came in, add the sentence, ‘If there is any way to safely help her feel better without antibiotics, that is what I would prefer.’

Published on: March 08, 2005
About the Author
Photo of Dr. Alan Greene
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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