Doctors know antibiotics aren't the right treatment for bronchitis. And they know overuse of antibiotics is leading to the rise of dangerous "superbugs." But they prescribe them anyway because patients feel better walking out of the doctor's office with antibiotics.
To this day, 71 percent of bronchitis cases are treated with antibiotics. When we have to explain to our children how we ended up in the post-antibiotic future, "it seemed easier than telling patients antibiotics aren't how you treat bronchitis" is going to seem like a wan excuse.
This also speaks to a deep problem in health care: patients have no idea how to judge quality care. If you survey someone with bronchitis walking out of their doctor's office with antibiotics they're probably going to tell you their doctor did a great job. If you survey someone whose doctor refused to prescribe antibiotics they might say the doctor did a terrible job. The truth, of course, would be exactly the reverse, but quality care and care that makes patients happy are different — and occasionally opposite — things.
For more on the danger of antibiotic overuse, watch Vox's interview with Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He begins talking about superbugs around the 7:00 mark: