Key Takeaways:

  1. Research shows that many prescriptions are routinely overprescribed.
  2. Short patient interactions often drive this phenomenon.
  3. Asking three basic questions can help prevent you from receiving unnecessary prescriptions. 

From antibiotics and opioids, to antidepressants and medications for ADHD, the medical discipline is rampant with stories about overprescribing medications. The pervasiveness of this issue reveals that is it not just a few bad apples —or doctors— who are overprescribing. Rather, it is a systemic issue related to the structure of our health care system. According to Dr. Carlin, “as more physicians engage employment through large regional hospital based systems, their patient interactions become shorter and shorter (typically 7 minutes).” These “brief interaction[s],” says Carlin, “do not allow for a thoughtful analysis of the patient’s problem and may prompt doctors to just order more tests.”This may mean that doctors are also quick to turn to the prescription pad, as in the case of primary care providers and antidepressants, who now provide the majority of prescriptions for mood disorders like depression. Some experts estimate that nearly 75% of prescriptions for psychiatric medications are written despite the patient not having a diagnosis. Antidepressants are just one of the many medications that are routinely overprescribed. The opioid epidemic has led to stricter oversight and prescribing regulations, but these changes have not done enough to quell the growing rates of dependence and addiction. Overuse of antibiotics has led to a crisis of antibiotic resistance and left researchers scrambling to find new treatments for diseases like tuberculosis.Here are three questions you can ask to make sure you are not receiving unnecessary medications:

1. Are there alternative (non-pharmacological) treatment options?  As in the case of depression, antidepressants are just one possible treatment.2. If I forgo this medication, will my symptoms resolve on their own? For example, new research suggests that some conditions routinely treated with antibiotics can resolve without medications in the same amount of time.3. Are there long-term risks or side effects to taking this medication? While prescription painkillers like opioids are still recommended in many cases, they should be used with caution. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 25% of individuals who are prescribed an opioid for 12 days will still be taking the painkillers 12 months later. Doctors are busy people, and are often not given the opportunity to spend as much time with patients as one would hope. Fortunately, a health advisor or other trusted expert can provide you with individualized attention to help ensure that careful consideration has been given when selecting treatment options and medications.