Opinion: Family Physicians Keep an Eye On All Aspects of Our Health

By Dr. Patty Swiney 

Pictured: Dr. Patty Swiney

We put in a lot of work to maintain our homes, cars and gadgets throughout the year, including regular maintenance and services checks. But how can we do the same for our most important asset: our health?  

That’s where Kentucky’s family physicians come in. Family physicians, like myself, develop strong, long-lasting relationships with our patients and your loved ones. From administering immunizations and providing routine checkups, to delivering ongoing care for chronic conditions, we’re here to serve you, no matter your age or medical history. 

Just like our homes, cars and gadgets need preventive work, so do our bodies—and family physicians are a critical part of the equation. We work with our patients to ensure they’re making good health decisions and have the right medicines and treatments to fight off illness when needed.  

For the last few years, our health care system has focused on treating and stopping the spread of COVID-19. Now, with cases declining, we must look ahead to preventing other serious health threats. One growing problem we’re seeing is anti-microbial resistance, or AMR.  

Antibiotics play an important role in medicine. Without them, some of the most common ailments like ear infections, strep throat or even something as simple as a scraped knee could be life-threatening. When AMR occurs, their efficacy—and your health— is put at risk.

Antimicrobial resistance occurs when bacteria, viruses and other pathogens change over time and stop responding to medicines, making common infections more difficult to treat and increasing the risk of disease, severe illness and death. 

Even prior to the pandemic, AMR was a global health concern. In fact, the CDC estimated the occurrence of more than 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections in the United States annually, resulting in 35,000 deaths. And many more across the globe are expected to die from antibiotic-resistant infections by 2050 if we don’t address this problem now. 

Doctors have been treating infections with antibiotics since World War II, but today our pipeline of innovative medicines and treatments is dwindling, making antibiotic resistant infections more likely and more dangerous. 

Family physicians have seen firsthand how quickly these antibiotic-resistant infections have risen over the last decade. As primary care providers, it’s important to talk with our patients about germs becoming resistant to antibiotics and recommend other treatment options for bacterial infections when we can.  

We should be thoughtful in prescribing these medications, but we must also advocate for continued medical innovation that leads to new and improved antibiotics. New antibiotics will allow us to treat a wide range of infections, without jeopardizing our patients’ health.

The good news is that lawmakers at the federal level are listening to our concerns. The Pioneering Antimicrobial Subscriptions to End Up Surging Resistance Act, or PASTEUR Act, has been introduced to incentivize the development of new antibiotics by providing a consistent payment model for medications that should only be taken for short periods of time. This legislation is crucial to addressing AMR concerns, promoting pharmaceutical innovation and improving health outcomes. 

Given that the FDA only approved 15 antibiotics between 2010 and 2019, it’s clear we need drugmakers to feel secure in investing in research and development to counteract AMR. That’s why we’re encouraging our elected representatives in Congress to support this legislation.

At the end of the day, family physicians, here in Kentucky and across the nation, remain committed to helping our patients live long, healthy lives. The PASTEUR Act will give us the new, effective, lifesaving antibiotics we need to continue working toward this goal.

About: Dr. Patty Swiney is a family medicine physician who owns DirectCare Family Health, a direct primary care office in Paris, KY. She is co-chair of the Kentucky Academy of Family Physicians Advocacy Committee and a past president of the organization.