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Antibiotics and narcotics are often prescribed when they aren’t the best option for patients and may do more harm than good, a survey of U.S. physicians suggests.

The survey asked doctors to identify treatments that they see routinely used despite guidelines recommending against the interventions and little or no value for patients.

Overuse of antibiotics topped the list, with 27 percent of doctors identifying this as a common problem. Prescribing narcotics and opioids for chronic pain was another treatment of limited value, according to 7.3 percent of physicians surveyed.

“We need to start concentrating on high-value care,” said lead study author Dr. Amir Qaseem, vice president of clinical policy and chair of the high value care task force for the American College of Physicians.

This isn’t just about money.

“The value of any intervention is when you look at the benefits and harms and cost together,” Qaseem said in a telephone interview.

“For example, HIV treatment is very expensive but that doesn’t mean it’s low value because it’s very effective,” Qaseem added. “Antibiotics can be very cheap but they can be low value because they often aren’t necessary.”

His team’s findings, from an online survey completed by 1,582 doctors, were published online December 5th in Annals of Internal Medicine.

Participants were asked to identify the two treatments they most often observed being used for patients that were unlikely to offer high value.


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