Physicians more likely to support fines for overprescribing antibiotics when they know it hurts patients

When made aware of patient harms, doctors are more likely to support penalties for overprescribing antibiotics.

Doctors are more likely to support financial penalties for overprescribing antibiotics when they know how the practice can hurt patients, a new study found.

Physician support for fines varied depending on whether the rationale given for them was based on patient, societal or institutional harm, according to the study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Support was highest among doctors who received information about patient harms.

The researchers said policies aimed at discouraging overprescribing should explicitly emphasize the harms and costs to patients to boost success.

RELATED: Peer pressure may curb unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions

Researchers conducted a web-based survey of members of the American College of Physicians and used a clinical vignette to measure how likely they were to recommend antibiotics for an uncomplicated upper respiratory infection—despite consensus about their low value. They also evaluated physician attitudes about cost control in patient care.

Researchers then asked participants questions that described harms to patients including increased costs and infections, to society including increased bacterial resistance to antibiotics or to institutions, such as increased costs to hospitals. Thirty-one percent of respondents supported financial penalties, but those told about how they can harm patients were more likely to do so.

A separate study last year found that when it comes to the struggle to reduce overprescription of antibiotics, peer pressure yields better results than other forms of prodding and persuasion. The greatest reduction came when researchers sent providers emails comparing their antibiotic prescribing habits to their top-performing peers.