Doctors are overprescribing antibiotics to Black patients 65 and older at an alarming rate, a new study found.
University of Texas Health Science researchers concluded that 64 percent of the antibiotics prescribed to Black patients were unnecessary and inappropriate — that number jumps to 74 percent for senior patients 65 and up.
White patients were overprescribed at a 56 percent rate.
According to WebMD, the study was based on 7 billion visits to U.S. doctor’s offices, hospitals, and emergency departments. Most of the excessive prescriptions given to Black patients were to treat nonbacterial skin problems, viral respiratory tract infections, and bronchitis — yet none of these conditions can be cured with antibiotics.
Researcher Eric Young said in a statement, “Our results suggest that Black and [Hispanic/Latino] patients may not be properly treated and are receiving antibiotic prescriptions even when not indicated."
The results of this study warrant a deeper look into why unequal prescription practices are disproportionately affecting the older Black community, experts say.
Young said that doctors tend to prescribe antibiotics to prevent mild symptoms from turning into an infection. Doctors become especially precautious if they believe a patient won’t return for a follow-up appointment, which Young said, “more frequently happens in the Black community.”
Dr. Rachel Villanueva, president of the National Medical Association, pointed out the racial disparities and bias that have long plagued Black healthcare in America.
“We do know that these kind of inequities have existed for a long time in our society,” Villanueva said in a statement. “They're not new and have been well-documented for many, many years. But this deserves further research and further evaluation.”
She added, “This is just the first step – we need to do some more evaluation on how different communities are treated in the health care system. Why is this occurring?”
The overprescription of antibiotics is extremely dangerous, WebMD reports. When overused, bacteria that infect the body become stronger and beat the drugs that are supposed to save lives.
On top of the racial bias, some older patients struggle with describing their symptoms, Dr. Preeti Malani said.
Malani added that inappropriate prescriptions can be especially dangerous for senior patients because of drug interactions and complications like Achilles tendon rupture and bacterial infections that can occur after antibiotic use.
The alarming results of this study are expected to be presented at the 2022 European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases in Lisbon, Portugal.