Man on laptop looking up how to get antibiotics

Wondering how to get antibiotics without seeing a healthcare provider? Why you need to see a healthcare provider

Written on December 1, 2022 by Lori Mulligan, MPH. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

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Other than a few topical over-the-counter (OTC) antibiotic ointments, there is no other legal way to obtain oral antibiotics. A primary care provider must prescribe your antibiotics for several reasons.

Reasons for primary care providers to prescribe antibiotics

Your provider has the expertise and years of experience to know which antibiotic to recommend given your health condition. He or she will select the most appropriate antibiotic for you, thereby personalizing your treatment.

Antibiotics are usually specific for a particular type of bacteria and, therefore, cannot be interchangeably used to treat all kinds of bacterial infections. Your provider can make sure you’re on the right dose and the right medicine for the right length of time.

Another huge reason your primary care provider needs to be involved is to watch for antimicrobial resistance, which is a global threat. Antibiotic resistance is one of the most urgent threats to the public’s health. While most drug misuse only harms the individual, antibiotic misuse can contribute to the broader global impact of antimicrobial resistance.

Antibiotic resistance happens when germs, like bacteria and fungi, develop the ability to defeat the drugs designed to kill them. That means the germs are not killed and continue to grow. More than 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections occur in the United States each year, and more than 35,000 people die as a result. Therefore, it is important to use antibiotics only for bacterial ailments because they do not work on viruses. Therefore, it is essential that your physician monitor your intake of antibiotics [1].

Physicians are not perfect either when it comes to authorizing antibiotic prescriptions. Each year, at least 28% of antibiotics are prescribed unnecessarily in U.S. primary care provider's offices and emergency rooms (ERs), again underscoring the need to improve antibiotic prescribing and to make it a national priority [2].

Evidence of patient misuse of antibiotics

Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Northwestern University looked through a decade of medical bills for 53 million people nationwide. They found nearly 83 million antibiotic prescriptions that were filled with no record of an associated healthcare provider visit that could have verified that the antibiotics were necessary. That totaled about 28% of the 300 million antibiotics prescribed to patients, who were enrolled in Medicaid between 2004 and 2013 [3].

In another study, researchers examined data from 31 previously published studies to assess non-prescription antibiotic use in the U.S. and the factors that may contribute to it. According to this analysis, one in four people had already used antibiotics without a prescription or intended to. The study also found that up to almost half of people had stored antibiotics for future use or intended to do so, saving medicines prescribed for them or perhaps for a child, parent, or another family member [4].

People might get sicker when they self-medicate with a drug that’s not effective for their illness, exposing themselves to potentially preventable complications - and they can also make antibiotics less effective not just for their own use but for others who need these drugs.

Understanding patient perspective on why they skip the healthcare provider for antibiotics

There are several reasons why people circumvent the healthcare provider for antibiotic prescriptions, including:

  • The inconvenience of leaving work or not getting paid for leaving work
  • Lack health insurance
  • Don’t have access to a regular provider or clinic
  • Couldn’t afford the cost of healthcare provider visits or drug
  • Were embarrassed to seek care for sexually transmitted infections

As such, people will pursue the following ways to obtain antibiotics without a prescription:

  • Flea markets
  • Health food stores
  • Friends or relatives
  • Pet stores
  • Online [5]

Opportunities to increase patient compliance with seeking physician approval for antibiotic prescription

While there’s no legal way around getting a physician’s approval before taking antibiotics, telemedicine may offer a way to reduce some of the barriers people are facing.

For example, patients with limited access to healthcare, such as those residing in rural locations and older patients with transportation challenges, will benefit from telehealth.

Time-constrained individuals with jobs and/or caregiver responsibilities may prefer telehealth, as well.

Not all conditions will be appropriate for telemedicine, but it is likely that several common conditions, including urinary tract infections, flu, allergies, rashes, sore throats, and respiratory infections are good candidates for telehealth evaluation and prescription.

Everlywell offers a telehealth option where a nurse practitioner virtually examines the patient and may make prescriptions.


There is a critical need for future well-designed studies to develop tailored, sustainable interventions that encourage patients to seek antibiotics from their healthcare provider, such as through telehealth.

Everlywell now offers Virtual Care Visits that let you talk with a healthcare provider over video on your schedule, allowing you to address your symptoms with the right test, prescriptions, and/or lifestyle recommendations.

How to treat an STI without going to a healthcare provider’s office

Can medication be prescribed via telehealth?

How do I do a virtual visit with my healthcare provider?


  1. Kathryn S, Haley A, David D, and Kerry LL. Antimicrobial Prescribing in the Telehealth Setting: Framework for Stewardship During a Period of Rapid Acceleration Within Primary Care. Published 2022 Jul 30. doi: 10.1093/cid/ciac598. URL
  2. About Antibiotic Resistance. Mississippi State Department of Health. Accessed on December 1, 2022. URL
  3. Be Antibiotics Aware. Centers for Disease for Disease Control and Prevention. Last Reviewed: November 12, 2021. Accessed on December 1, 2022. URL
  4. Evans, M. Patients Often Get Antibiotics Without a Doctor Visit, Study Finds. Wall Street Journal. February 3, 2020. Accessed on December 1, 2022.
  5. Grigoryan L, Germanos G, Zoorob R, Juneja S, Raphael JL, Paasche-Orlow MK, Trautner BW. Use of Antibiotics Without a Prescription in the U.S. Population: A Scoping Review. Ann Intern Med. 2019 Aug 20;171(4):257-263. doi: 10.7326/M19-0505. Epub 2019 Jul 23. PMID: 31330541.
  6. Rapaport L. Antibiotic use without prescription common in U.S. July 22, 2019. Accessed on December 1, 2022. URL
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