Public Policy

Better Prescription Practices Can Curb Antibiotic Resistance


Overuse of antibiotics is fueling antimicrobial resistance, posing a threat to people around the world and prompting increased attention to antibiotic stewardship practices. Good stewardship requires hospitals and clinicians to adopt coordinated interventions that focus on reducing inappropriate antibiotic prescribing while remaining focused on the health of patients.

Although it can seem overwhelming to physicians with busy workloads and sick patients to engage in these practices, not addressing the issue of responsible antibiotic prescribing is putting patients at risk.

“We know development of resistance is complicated,” says Arjun Srinivasan, MD, FSHEA, associate director for the CDC’s Healthcare Associated Infection Prevention Program and medical director of Get Smart for Healthcare in the CDC’s division of Healthcare Quality Promotion. Dr. Srinivasan is one of the authors of a recent CDC report on antibiotic prescribing practices across the U.S. “Nonetheless, we know that overuse of antibiotics leads to increases in resistance. We also know that if we can improve the way we prescribe them, we can reduce antibiotic resistance.”

The CDC recommends that hospitals adopt, at a minimum, the following antibiotic stewardship checklist:

  • Commit leadership: Dedicate necessary human, financial, and information technology resources.
  • Create accountability: Appoint a single leader responsible for program outcomes. Physicians have proven successful in this role.
  • Provide drug expertise: Appoint a single pharmacist leader to support improved prescribing.
  • Act: Take at least one prescribing improvement action, such as requiring reassessment within 48 hours to check drug choice, dose, and duration.
  • Track: Monitor prescribing and antibiotic resistance patterns.
  • Report: Regularly report to staff on prescribing and resistance patterns, as well as steps to improve.
  • Educate: Offer education about antibiotic resistance and improving prescribing practices.
  • Work with other healthcare facilities to prevent infections, transmission, and resistance.

These practices are not just the domain of infectious disease clinicians, either, says Neil Fishman, MD, chief patient safety officer and associate chief medical officer at the University of Pennsylvania Health System and past president of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America. In 1992, Dr. Fishman helped establish an antibiotic stewardship program at Penn, working with infectious disease staff to identify and adopt best practices tailored to their needs.

Their efforts have shown promise in improving the health of their patients, he says, and many institutions that adopt stewardship programs typically see cost savings, too.

In one study that looked at stewardship-related cost reduction, primarily among larger healthcare settings, the average annual savings from reduced inappropriate antibiotic prescribing ranged from $200,000 to $900,000.

“These programs do usually end up decreasing drug costs but also increasing the quality of care,”

Dr. Fishman says. “If you can cut out 30% of unnecessary drugs, you cut drug costs. To me, that meets the true definition of value in healthcare.”

In one study that looked at stewardship-related cost reduction, primarily among larger healthcare settings, the average annual savings from reduced inappropriate antibiotic prescribing ranged from $200,000 to $900,000.

The recent CDC report, to which Dr. Srinivasan contributed, was published March 4 in Vital Signs. The study found that as many as a third of antibiotics prescribed are done so inappropriately. According to experts, hospitals and other healthcare institutions need to develop processes and standards to assist physicians in efforts to be responsible antibiotic prescribers.

“Sometimes, when you’re focusing on other issues, antibiotics are a bit of an afterthought,” says Scott Flanders, MD, FACP, MHM, professor of internal medicine and director of hospital medicine at University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor.

“If there is not a checklist of processes [and] things are not accounted for in a systematic way, it doesn’t happen.”

Dr. Flanders and colleague Sanjay Saint, MD, MPH, the University of Michigan George Dock Collegiate professor of internal medicine and associate chief of medicine at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, recently published an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine in which they recommend the following:

  • Antimicrobial stewardship programs, which aim to develop guidelines and implement programs that help optimize antibiotic use among hospitalized patients, should partner with front-line clinicians to tackle the problem.
  • Clinicians should better document aspects of antibiotic use that can be shared with other providers caring for the same patient throughout his or her hospital stay and after discharge.
  • Clinicians should take an “antibiotic time-out” after 48-72 hours of a patient’s use of antibiotics to reassess the use of these drugs.
  • Treatment and its duration should be in line with evidence-based guidelines, and institutions should work to clearly identify appropriate treatment duration.
  • Improved diagnostic tests should be available to physicians.
  • Target diagnostic error by working to improve how physicians think when considering whether to provide antibiotics.
  • Develop performance measures that highlight common conditions in which antibiotics are overprescribed, to shine a brighter light on the problem.

“I think we can make a lot of progress,” Dr. Flanders says. “The problem is complex; it developed over decades, and any solutions are unlikely to solve the problem immediately. But there are several examples of institutions and hospitals making significant inroads in a short period of time.” —KAT

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