A plate of Staphylococcus aureus bacterial colonies growing amid white, antibiotic-emitting discs. The clear spots indicate that the antibiotic on the disc can kill the bacteria; growth around a disc means the bacteria are resistant to that emitted drug. (credit: Nathan Reading/Flickr)

Antibiotics can kick many ailments, but they don’t fight everything—like anything caused by a virus, such as the flu, and most colds. Taking antibiotics for such problems is not only useless, it’s what helps microbes develop resistance to the drugs, which in turn leads to difficult-to-treat, often-deadly infections.

Yet doctors face a daily dilemma: to be good doctors, they must only prescribe antibiotics when the drugs are needed. But to make patients think they’re good doctors, they must hand out antibiotics freely—at least according to a new nationwide healthcare survey in England.

The survey, which included nearly a million patients and 7,800 practices, found that patients were least satisfied with family doctors who were frugal with antibiotic prescriptions. In fact, the amount of antibiotic prescriptions a practice doled out was a leading predictor of its patient satisfaction ranking. The finding, published in the British Journal of General Practice, suggests that responsible use of antibiotics for the greater good may mean doctors take a hit in their patient popularity.

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