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As public health officials struggle to contain antibiotic resistance, new research shows the task may be more difficult than some thought. A review of patient data found that as much as 30 percent of all antibiotics were prescribed unnecessarily in physician offices and clinics.

The study found that patients are often prescribed antibiotics for afflictions, such as the common cold, which can be treated differently. But prescribing rates are high because patients expect to receive antibiotics and physicians may believe patients hold such expectations, according to the study’s authors.


The research, which was published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, comes amid ongoing concern about antibiotic resistance, which has been blamed for at least 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths annually, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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  • From the CDC

    Superbugs threaten hospital patients
    1 in 4 catheter- and surgery-related HAIs caused by six resistant bacteria in long-term hospitals

    Many of the most urgent and serious antibiotic-resistant bacteria threaten patients while they are being treated in healthcare facilities for other conditions, and may lead to sepsis or death. In acute care hospitals, 1 in 7 catheter- and surgery-related HAIs can be caused by any of the six antibiotic-resistant bacteria listed below. That number increases to 1 in 4 infections in long-term acute care hospitals, which treat patients who are generally very sick and stay, on average, more than 25 days.

    The six antibiotic-resistant threats examined are:

    Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE)
    Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
    ESBL-producing Enterobacteriaceae (extended-spectrum β-lactamases)
    Vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (VRE)
    Multidrug-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa

    Multidrug-resistant C. difficile caused almost half a million infections in the United States in 2011 alone.

  • I also seem to recall that the act of writing the Rx allows the physician to charge for a visit, something that other approaches might not support. It makes the script a business driver, so to speak. Corrections cheerfully accepted.

    • This is not true. While prescription drug management is one of many factors that might be considered in coding, you generally can bill the same level of visit for something like bronchitis whether or not you prescribe an antibiotic. You can also do time-based billing if you spend an inordinate amount of time counseling on why the antibiotic is not needed.

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