Antibiotic Prescriptions and Psychology

In a new article, (Sirota, Round, Samaranayaka, and Kostopoulou, 2017), we find that prescribing (or perhaps overprescribing) of antibiotics can be affected by a patient, or parent’s, expectations for an antibiotic, has an impact on the willingness of a PCP to write a prescription for them.  The study is one more way that we see how Behavioral Health and medicine relate (see APA Center for Psychology and Health)

In the study, they found that this expectation “manipulation” didn’t seem to affect the PCP’s sense of how likely there was a bacterial infection, but did make them more willing to write the script for antibiotics. In addition, the more experienced the PCP, the less likely the willingness to write the script for an antibiotic without an increased likelihood of bacterial infection.

The study shows us that behavioral healthcare providers can intervene with patients to reduce their expectations that antibiotics are needed when there may be no infection. Too, the study shows that educating PCPs about a) the impact of their own beliefs about an antibiotic, and b) methods for managing their own expectations, would have a decent chance to reducing the overprescribing of an antibiotic.

The role of beliefs and expectation on health has long been well known.  But, this study is one of the first to show how an epidemic of overprescribing of an antibiotic stems, at least in part, for both the patients’ and the PCPs’ beliefs.  We can see that creating rational beliefs about antibiotics, and ways to challenge unrealistic expectations, can help both the patient and the physician.  Having co-located Behavioral Health in a PCP office has many benefits, well beyond sticking to a post-heart-attack exercise program. This study shows how Behavioral Health can improve a public health problem, and make it more likely that all of us will benefit from an antibiotic when we really need one. 

For more interesting information about the interface between psychology and healthcare, check out the Society for Health Psychology.