Humans aren't that good at considering the bigger picture when it conflicts with their individual desires.
For example, we all know global warming threatens the future of humankind, yet when it's chilly many of us can't help turning up the thermostat.
Similarly, GPs all know the evolution of antibiotic resistant bacteria threatens the future of medicine, yet many of them are prescribing antibiotics with no good medical reason.
Now the extent to which this is happening has been exposed in a survey of just over 1,000 GPs across the UK.
Here, for me, are the three most damning responses:
- 44% had prescribed antibiotics to get the patient to leave the surgery
- 26% had prescribed to keep to their appointment time schedule
- 45% had prescribed when they knew it was a viral infection and antibiotics wouldn't treat the condition
Source: Longitude Prize
Unsurprisingly, when I told two eminent microbiologists these results, one called them "outrageous," the other "reprehensible".
The more antibiotics are used, the more likely it becomes that bacteria will evolve which aren't killed by them. Only last month remember, the Prime Minister warned that we risk sending medicine back to the "dark ages".
So what explains these apparently lax prescribing habits? Are these GPs lazy? Rushed? Too keen to be liked? Under-trained? Risk-averse?
Or are they simply blinded by sympathy for the individual in front of them, and a strong desire to help? And during that personal interaction, it's difficult to be strict.
Forgetting the bigger picture is something we're all often guilty of. But it's a human trait we need professionals like GPs to suppress in themselves, for the greater good.
An irresponsible prescribing decision is still wrong, even if it's made with the best of intentions.