The Ethics of Dermatology
Guest Blogger: Sara Hines
June 17, 2012
With the emergence of superbugs in the news lately, the public has come to understand that antibiotics are supposed to be prescribed only when essential. I interpret this to mean “for more serious reasons than cosmetic appearance”. Recently I was in conversation with a friend when she confessed the secret behind her new and improved clear complexion: for the last few months she has been taking a daily dose of an oral antibiotic to treat her acne.
What? How can this be?!? I am shocked!
Am I wrong in thinking that prescribing antibiotics for acne is an outdated practice? Isn’t my friend’s situation an example of non-essential prescribing, the kind that leads to treatment-resistant strains of bacteria? I don’t begrudge my dear friend her clear skin; she looks great and acne is no picnic. Low doses of antibiotics, in combination with topical treatments, which she was also prescribed, do get results when it comes to clearing up acne. But my friend is one person, one instance. Where was her doctor’s concern for public health?
Let me state that I know acne can be severe, in some cases devastating, completely marring the face and/or body of the sufferer. This was not the case for my friend. She had moderate breakouts that I don’t believe warranted an oral antibiotic intervention, given the consequences.
Apparently I was wrong in my assumption that all doctors are practicing conservative prescribing. There has been a significant decrease but some dermatologists are still using oral antibiotics for acne because of the high success rate. And each prescription is making a choice between clearing a single person’s skin and contributing to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance.
Are ethics in the dermatologist’s office on the decline? Maybe the current heightened obsession with beauty and the boom of cosmetic dermatology mean that super bugs aren’t top priority and therefore public health be-damned. That’s a scary thought.
If you consult a doctor about acne, you may be offered a prescription for antibiotics. Maybe you will decide it’s not the best route to take.