Do Physicians' Legal Duties to Patients Conflict with Public Health Values? The Case of Antibiotic Overprescription

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Abstract

Among the many explanations for antibiotic overprescription, some doctors cite the risk of malpractice liability if they deny a patient's request for an antibiotic and the patient's condition worsens. In this paper, I examine the merits of this concern—i.e., whether physicians could, in fact, face malpractice liability for refusing to prescribe an antibiotic when, from a public health perspective, the use of the antibiotic would be considered inappropriate. I conclude that the potential for liability cannot be dismissed entirely, but the risk is remote—even in cases where there is a chance that the antibiotic might have benefited the patient.

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