Do Doctors Today Over Prescribe Medications?

The decision to pursue prescription medication as a course of treatment should be between a patient and his doctor. And there are unquestionably many situations in which prescriptions meds are the best, if not only, option.

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Are we being over prescribed medications?

But as pharmaceutical innovations continue to increase the number of medications available to treat us, it’s important to monitor just how dependent society has become on prescription drugs and whether doctors are too frequently choosing to reach for their prescription pads before trying non-drug alternatives like diet, stress reduction, and exercise.

According to a study conducted by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation in 2011, the average number of prescription drugs taken annually by Americans according to age group are:

  • Ages 0-18: 4.1 prescription drugs
  • Ages 19-64: 11.9 prescription drugs
  • Ages 65+: 28 prescription drugs

In light of research revealing a tendency in the medical profession to over prescribe, Dr. Gordon Schiff of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston co-authored a report called “Principles of conservative prescribing,” in which he and his colleagues offer physicians guidelines for prescribing:

  • Think beyond drugs (consider nondrug therapy, treatable underlying causes, and prevention).
  • Practice more strategic prescribing (defer nonurgent drug treatment; avoid unwarranted drug switching; be circumspect about unproven drug uses; and start treatment with only 1 new drug at a time).
  • Maintain heightened vigilance regarding adverse effects (suspect drug reactions; be aware of withdrawal syndromes; and educate patients to anticipate reactions).
  • Exercise caution and skepticism regarding new drugs (seek out unbiased information; wait until drugs have sufficient time on the market; be skeptical about surrogate rather than true clinical outcomes; avoid stretching indications; avoid seduction by elegant molecular pharmacology; beware of selective drug trial reporting).
  • Work with patients for a shared agenda (do not automatically accede to drug requests; consider nonadherence before adding drugs to regimen; avoid restarting previously unsuccessful drug treatment; discontinue treatment with unneeded medications; and respect patients’ reservations about drugs).
  • Consider long-term, broader impacts (weigh long-term outcomes, and recognize that improved systems may outweigh marginal benefits of new drugs).

If you feel your doctor is prescribing medications unnecessarily, it may be time to find a new one. Use the Vitals Doctor Finder to find a physician who considers non-drug solutions first.

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