We love our doctors and nurses.
You can see it in the annual polls that tell us they consistently rank at the very top of the professional heap (our friends in Congress, not so much). This reality is even reflected in our cultural narrative about them; for example, in how they’re portrayed on television. From Marcus Welby, MD, to George Clooney’s character Dr. Doug Ross on ER, to today’s Grey’s Anatomy, we are presented with a string of highly competent, caring, and properly motivated people.
But there’s a problem. The professional reputation of our best and brightest is taking a hit these days. The charge against them is that they’re over-prescribing antibiotics. This drives the emergence of resistant bacterial strains, which poses a serious threat to public health. In the words of the World Health Organization: “… the world is headed for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill …” So much so, in fact, that a recent UK government-sponsored report predicts that deaths by antibiotic-resistant infections will surpass deaths caused by cancer by the year 2050.
So the trick is to cut back on prescribing unnecessary antibiotics, especially in those cases where we know they won’t work – e.g., for most colds and the flu – or for any other illegitimate reason.
Illegitimate reasons? Take a look at this survey conducted by the online journal Medscape, that tells us why clinicians – i.e., physicians, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners – prescribe antibiotics.
That’s troubling stuff. Basing treatment decisions on patient demands or the fear of lawyers, for example, is not what we expect to see. It begs the question, where do we go from here?
And to help answer that, how wrong would it be to ask ourselves this – what would Dr. Doug Ross do?