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Prescription Antibiotics Wrongly Prescribed 25% Of The Time

Prescription antibiotics are unfortunately too often prescribed inappropriately here in the United States, a recent analysis finds. Specifically, the analysis shows that for more than 19 million people, over 23% of the prescriptions were not warranted.

The data comes from the records of privately-insured U.S. children and adults given prescriptions in 2016.

The analysis revealed that 23.2 percent of that year’s antibiotic prescription fills were for “inappropriate” use of these medications.

The most common wrong antibiotic prescriptions were for colds, coughs, and chest infections.


prescription antibiotics


Prescription Antibiotics:

Antibiotics are drugs that kill bacteria. They do not work against viruses.

Taking antibiotics to treat a viral infection, such as a cold or flu, is an example of inappropriate use.

Inappropriate prescribing and use of antibiotics contributes to antibiotic resistance, which is the ability of bacteria to survive drugs that once used to kill them.

Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem and an urgent threat to public health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every year in the U.S., around 2 million people acquire antibiotic-resistant infections, and more than 23,000 people die because of them.


The analysis showed that approximately one out of every seven individuals in the dataset had at least one inappropriate antibiotic prescription fill in 2016.

It also found that inappropriate prescription fills were most common for adults.

It is possible that the figure of 23.2 percent underestimates the number of inappropriate prescriptions.

One reason for this is that the 35.5 percent of prescriptions that the researchers classed as potentially appropriate includes bacterial or viral symptoms. Examples of these include sore throat and sinusitis.

Another reason is that the 28.5 percent of prescriptions could include many inappropriate ones that resulted from online or phone consultations.


Prescription Antibiotics: New Coding System

The recent study offers a new classification scheme that could be useful for monitoring antibiotic prescriptions. This code can insure that antibiotics are prescribed correctly.

The code gives a score for each prescription written by a doctor. It’s based on the diagnosis code that medical coders assign to the insurance claim during the billing process.

For each code on a claim, the researchers determined whether prescribing the antibiotic was either “always,” “sometimes,” or “never” justified.

The study paper gives an example of a prescription fill for amoxicillin on which the justifications, according to the diagnosis codes on the claim, were fever, cough, and pneumonia.

The researchers designated these justifications as follows: fever (never), cough (never), and pneumonia (always). In this case, because of pneumonia, they decided that the prescription was appropriate.

In another amoxicillin example, the team decided that the prescription was “potentially appropriate.” While two of the codes were for conditions that never justify the use of the antibiotic, one was for acute sinusitis, which can only sometimes justify its use.

Finally, in a third example, they decided that the prescription was inappropriate because the diagnosis codes were for cough, fever, and acute bronchitis, all of which scored a “never.” None of these conditions justifies a prescription for amoxicillin.



Antibiotic resistance is a serious health issue. The new coding system can reduce the incidence of wrong prescriptions.

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