The Psychology of Antibiotic Abuse

August 11, 2017

Health Psychology

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Yup. You read that right. Antibiotic abuse, not opioid abuse!!!

Check out this article. Duh! What you will see in this piece is the revelation that there are multiple/documented reasons for physicians overprescribing, and patients over requesting/consuming, oral antibiotics. As I have been preaching for a long time, there is a body of knowledge, Health Psychology, that needs to be carefully drawn upon to understand behavior here, and to intelligently craft plans to change it.

First, we need to understand that consumers don’t act any more rationally in healthcare than they do in any other segment of their lives. There are considerations like the “action bias.” I have a chest cold with a bothersome cough. I want to do something about it, damn it! Now!!! And “discounting the future.” I have that cold now. What do I care if by prescribing an antibiotic for me, which I will probably take half of, my doctor and I are screwing up antibiotic efficacy for future generations?

As the authors sagely summarize, another educational poster is not going to alter this manner of thinking!

So, what does Behavioral Psychology say will make a difference here? Suggestion. Physicians are competitive. Enter them into competition with their colleagues and offer feedback as to which doctors are prescribing antibiotics most conservatively.  Studies indicate that seems to work!

Bottom Line. People, we need to get over the notion that simply giving people information and dire predictions of some outcome in the distant future will influence health behavior. Everybody, and I do mean everybody, in our vertical should have on their shelves for easy reference copies all of the books referenced in this article. Maybe everybody should even read them. If they did, they would get a great start toward understanding Health Psychology, and how this body of knowledge can help us to help patients behave better in the management of their healthcare.

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