I’ve written before on the increasing danger of bacteria that are resistant to multiple antibiotics.  This resistance is a side effect of the use, and frequent misuse, of the many antibiotics physicians have at our disposal.  I’ve also written about the pressure that physicians sometimes face from patients to prescribe unnecessary antibiotics.

Last week Slate published an article by Dr. Zachary Meisel, an emergency department physician who recounts facing a very common dilemma.  He took care of an infant with a cold whose mom clearly expected a prescription for antibiotics.  Knowing that antibiotics won’t help the baby, but not wanting to dissatisfy the mom, what was he to do?  (Why an infant with a cold would be in an emergency room rather than in her pediatrician’s office is a vast subject for a different post.)

Dr. Meisel cites a recent study that examined patient expectations for antibiotics and their satisfaction with the care they received.  The study concluded

“Patient satisfaction was not related to receipt of antibiotics but was related to the belief they had a better understanding of their illness.”

So for most patients, education about the disease is more valuable than a prescription.  This is an important lesson for us doctors to learn.  A prescription may take only 30 seconds to write, but ten minutes of teaching is better for the patient and for society.  This is another example of an instance in medicine in which efficiency and quality diverge, and doing the right thing takes some time.

So what did Dr. Meisel do?  To find out, I urge you to read the Slate article.

(Thanks to Luetrell T. for pointing me to the Slate article.)

Learn more:

Slate article:  The Pink-Bubble-Gum- Flavored Dilemma — Why doctors give out antibiotics you don’t need

My post about the pressure to prescribe unnecessary antibiotics: Acute Bronchitis

My post about resistant bacterial infections: Serious MRSA Infections More Common

Annals of Emergency Medicine Study: Antibiotic Use for Emergency Department Patients With Upper Respiratory Infections: Prescribing Practices, Patient Expectations, and Patient Satisfaction