New Zealanders are being advised by the Council of Medical Colleges to talk to their health professional first before requesting antibiotics for summer skin rashes or x-rays for back pain.

“Summer can bring a rise in things like allergic reactions, skin rashes, hives, heartburn and back pain,” said Council chair Dr Derek Sherwood.

“The temptation is to go to your doctor or pharmacist and ask for tests or medication to make things better,”

“But just because tests, treatments and procedures are available doesn’t mean we should always use them.”

He said there was mounting evidence that more tests, procedures and treatments don’t always equal better care.

“While modern medicine has given us more ways than ever to diagnose and treat illness, sometimes, the best option may be to do nothing.”

He pointed to X-rays for people with back pain as among the tests that need to be considered carefully before use.

“Back pain is one of the most common reasons we visit the doctor. But evidence shows most of us recover without needing scans or other tests.

“Not only do X-rays and CT scans expose patients to potentially cancer-causing radiation but many studies have shown scans frequently identify things that require further investigation but turn out to be nothing. This means patients can undergo stressful and potentially risky follow-up tests and treatments,” he says.

He said another example was treatment for skin rashes.

‘Eczema causes dry, itchy, red skin. People with eczema often have high amounts of bacteria on their skin, but that doesn’t mean they have an infection. Even so, some doctors treat eczema with oral antibiotics, in pill or liquid form.

“You can control eczema better with moisturisers and by avoiding products with alcohol or dyes.”

Dr Sherwood says patients are encouraged to ask their doctor or other health professional four questions:

  • Do I really need this test or procedure?
  • What are the risks?
  • Are there simpler, safer options?
  • What happens if I don’t do anything?

“Just by having these discussions you and your doctor will be clearer on what is the best thing to do for your health and wellbeing.”

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