Doctors And Their Families Tend to Not Follow Medical Advice: Study

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Doctors are renowned for condemning patients who fail to take recommended drugs. However, physicians and their families are less likely than the general population to adhere to prescription guidelines, according to a recent large-scale study.  

As per US News, people adhere to pharmaceutical guidelines approximately 54% of the time, while doctors and their families fall behind by approximately 4%, according to studies published in the American Economic Review journal. 

“There’s a lot of anxiety that people don’t understand guidelines, that they’re too hard to follow, and that people don’t trust their doctors,” said co-researcher Amy Finkelstein, an economics professor at MIT. If this is the case, you should observe the highest levels of adherence among physicians and their close relatives.  

“We were surprised to see that the contrary is true, that physicians and their close relatives are less likely to adhere to their own drug guidelines,” she stated in a press release from MIT.  

For the study, the researchers evaluated the adherence of Swedish patients to 63 prescription drug guidelines. The study included over 5.9 million participants, including approximately 150,000 doctors and close relatives.  

Researchers merged health care data with prescription drug purchase information to see if individuals’ medication choices corresponded with their medical conditions.  

Six of the recommendations related to antibiotics, twenty to pharmaceutical usage by the elderly, twenty to medications for specific diseases, and seventeen to the use of prescription drugs during pregnancy.  

In 41 of the 63 instances, clinicians and their families followed the rules less frequently. According to the study, doctors do not adhere to the standards because they believe they possess “better understanding regarding guidelines” for prescription medications and utilize their experience to guide their own use.  



The research team highlighted the criteria for antibiotic use, where doctors had the lowest compliance compared to the general population. Doctors and their families have a compliance rate that is greater than 5 percentage points below the national average.  

The majority of guidelines recommend prescribing “narrow-spectrum” antibiotics to patients before “broad-spectrum” antibiotics in order to reduce the danger of promoting antibiotic resistance.  

“From a public health standpoint, you want to eradicate the infection with a narrow-spectrum antibiotic,” Finkelstein explained. However, any patient would wish to eliminate the illness as rapidly as possible.  

“You can think that the reason doctors are less likely to adhere to the standards than other patients is because they… are aware of this gulf between what is good for them as patients and what is good for society,” she stated. Doctors were also likely to individually deviate from guidelines pertaining to medications for which side effect data was marginally lacking.  

For these medications, doctors and their families have an adherence rate that is over two percentage points lower than the general population. For medications with slightly stronger evidence of side effects, however, the difference is only about 1 percentage point.  

According to Maria Polyakova, an assistant professor of health policy at the Stanford University School of Medicine in California, “the results suggest that experts have a more nuanced understanding of what is the best course of action for themselves, and how that may differ from what the guidelines suggest.”  

According to the researchers, more study is needed to determine whether a lower level of expert adherence to pharmacological guidelines is connected with better health outcomes. In other words, this would determine the frequency with which doctors are correct.  

The researchers stated, “Identifying whether and when non-adherence is in the patient’s best interest is an essential area for future research.” 

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