The colder weather usually brings a rise in coughs, colds and respiratory infections like bronchitis, but these can often be treated by rest or over-the-counter medications, says Council of Medical Colleges chair Dr Derek Sherwood.

The College coordinates New Zealand’s arm of the global Choosing Wisely campaign, which encourages patients and health professionals to question and discuss whether tests, drugs and other clinical interventions and treatments are the right option for the patient. (See Choosing Wisely questions below.)

“In winter, it can feel like you’re living at the doctor’s – particularly if you have young children,” said Sherwood. “Having sick children is worrying, and it can be tempting to ask for a whole range of treatments or tests so you can be certain all bases are covered.”

But prescribing antibiotics to a child with a viral infection of their ear, nose, throat or chest will not make them feel or get better fast and using antibiotics inappropriately can increase the risk of antibiotic resistance for when a child has a bacterial infection.

Sherwood said in the case of a viral infection, the best treatment for a child might be rest and over-the-counter (OTC) medicines like paracetamol or ibuprofen.

He said another example was the unnecessary use of X-rays and CT scans for children or adults.

“These expose people to potentially cancer-causing radiation, but many studies have shown that scans frequently identify things that require further investigation but often turn out to be nothing. This means patients can undergo stressful and potentially risky follow-up tests and treatments for no reason.”

Dr Stephen Child, chief medical officer of the Southern Cross Health Society, which is one of the Choosing Wisely sponsors, said it joined the Council in encouraging Kiwis to ask the Choosing Wisely questions when deciding how to tackle winter ailments.

He said research among New Zealand GPs by Southern Cross Health Society last year found many GPs were uneasy about the growing trend for their patients to arrive in their office with a preconceived idea about the tests and treatments they needed.

A survey released last month by Consumer NZ and the Council of Medical Colleges found one in five Kiwis thought their doctor had recommended an unnecessary test or treatment and a third thought some tests didn’t benefit patients. Half thought the provision of unnecessary tests, procedures or treatments was a ‘serious’ or ‘somewhat serious’ issue.

Choosing Wisely patient 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?

More information at Choosing Wisely

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