Three Factors Contributing to Antibiotic Overprescription

Zachary Lutsky
Zachary Lutsky

Zachary Lutsky, MD, has been working as an emergency medicine physician for more than a decade. During this time he has cared for patients at several institutions, including Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, and earned board certification in emergency medicine. Beyond that, Zachary Lutsky, MD, has developed a professional interest in such topics as antibiotic overprescription.

According to research from the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly one in three prescriptions of antibiotics is unnecessary. This habit of over prescribing antibiotics contributes to the increasing number of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Following are several things driving this unnecessary antibiotic use:

Patient satisfaction

When patients visits their doctors, they often expect that they will receive a prescription, regardless of whether the prescription is necessary or not. Some patients will demand that antibiotics be prescribed, while others won’t. Still, whether it’s perceived by the physician or real, the pressure for doctors to prescribe something to patients influences their decision to prescribe antibiotics more frequently.


Physicians aren’t always sure what’s making a patient sick. Often certain conditions, such as a cold, shares remarkably similar symptoms to more serious illnesses, like pneumonia. To protect their patients from an undiagnosed or misdiagnosed illness, many doctors will prescribe antibiotics as a safeguard.

Decision fatigue

Doctors are responsible for repeatedly diagnosing and treating many of the same conditions. This ultimately leads to decision fatigue, a situation that occurs when a physician’s decision-making abilities decline due to making repetitive choices about treatment. It’s believed that decision fatigue plays a role in the inappropriate prescribing of antibiotics, and interestingly, studies have shown that physicians are more likely to prescribe antibiotics later in their workday.