Pediatric hospitalists take on the challenge of antibiotic stewardship

Quality-improvement approach aligns well with stewardship


When Carol Glaser, MD, was in training, the philosophy around antibiotic prescribing often went something like this: “Ten days of antibiotics is good, but let’s do a few more days just to be sure,” she said.

Today, however, the new mantra is “less is more.” Dr. Glaser is an experienced pediatric infectious disease physician and the lead physician for pediatric antimicrobial stewardship at The Permanente Medical Group, Kaiser Permanente, at the Oakland (Calif.) Medical Center. While antibiotic stewardship is an issue relevant to nearly all hospitalists, for pediatric patients, the considerations can be unique and particularly serious.

Dr. Shah

Dr. Shah

For instance, “we know there is a potential impact [of antibiotics] on the microbiome, and, from a pediatric standpoint, it’s not entirely clear what the consequences are for those types of changes,” said pediatric hospitalist Samir Shah, MD, MSCE, SFHM. “With children, the potential consequences may be far more significant, and we’re just at the cusp of beginning to understand what those are. … It’s important to think about long-term consequences in the face of uncertainty.”

Dr. Shah, a pediatric infectious disease physician at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, spoke last spring at HM17, the Society of Hospital Medicine’s annual meeting. His talk drew from issues raised on pediatric hospital medicine electronic mailing lists and from audience questions. These centered on decisions regarding the use of intravenous versus oral antibiotics for pediatric patients – or what he refers to as intravenous-to-oral conversion – as well as antibiotic treatment duration.

“For many conditions in pediatrics, we used to treat with intravenous antibiotics initially – and sometimes for the entire course – and now we’re using oral antibiotics for the entire course,” Dr. Shah said. He noted that urinary tract infections were once treated with IV antibiotics in the hospital but are now routinely treated orally in an outpatient setting.

Dr. Shah cited two studies, both of which he coauthored as part of the Pediatric Research in Inpatient Settings Network, which compared intravenous versus oral antibiotics treatments given after discharge: The first, published in JAMA Pediatrics in 2014, examined treatment for osteomyelitis, while the second, which focused on complicated pneumonia, was published in Pediatrics in 2016.1,2

Both were observational, retrospective studies involving more than 2,000 children across more than 30 hospitals. The JAMA Pediatrics study found that roughly half of the patients were discharged with a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) line, and half were prescribed oral antibiotics. In some hospitals, 100% of patients were sent home with a PICC line, and in others, all children were sent home on oral antibiotics. Although treatment failure rates were the same for both groups, 15% of the patients sent home with a PICC line had to return to the emergency department because of PICC-related complications. Some were hospitalized.1

The Pediatrics study found less variation in PICC versus oral antibiotic use across hospitals for patients with complicated pneumonia, but the treatment failure rate was slightly higher for PICC patients at 3.2%, compared with 2.6% for those on oral antibiotics. This difference, however, was not statistically significant. PICC-related complications were observed in 7.1% of patients with PICC lines also were more likely to experience adverse drug reactions, compared with patients on oral antibiotics.2

“PICC lines have some advantages, particularly when children are unable or unwilling to take oral antibiotics, but they also have risks” said Dr. Shah. “If outcomes are equivalent, why would you subject patients to the risks of a catheter? And, every time they get a fever at home with a PICC line, they need urgent evaluation for the possibility of a catheter-associated bacterial infection. There is an emotional cost, as well, to taking care of catheters in the home setting.”

Additionally, economic pressures are compelling hospitals to reduce costs and resource utilization while maintaining or improving the quality of care, Dr. Shah pointed out. “Hospitalists do many things well, and quality improvement is one of those areas. That approach really aligns with antimicrobial stewardship, and there is greater incentive with episode-based payment models and financial penalties for excess readmissions. Reducing post-discharge IV antibiotic use aligns with stewardship goals and reduces the likelihood of hospital readmissions.”

The hospital medicine division at Dr. Shah’s hospital helped assemble a multidisciplinary team involving emergency physicians, pharmacists, nursing staff, hospitalists, and infectious disease physicians to encourage the use of appropriate, narrow-spectrum antibiotics and reduce the duration of antibiotic therapies. For example, skin and soft-tissue infections that were once treated for 10-14 days are now sufficiently treated in 5-7days. These efforts to improve outcomes through better adherence to evidence-based practices, including better stewardship, earned the team the SHM Teamwork in Quality Improvement Award in 2014.

“Quality improvement is really about changing the system, and hospitalists, who excel in QI, are poised to help drive antimicrobial stewardship efforts,” Dr. Shah said.

At Oakland Medical Center, Dr. Glaser helped implement handshake rounds, an idea they adopted from a group in Colorado. Every day, with every patient, the antimicrobial stewardship team meets with representatives of the teams – pediatric intensive care, the wards, the NICU, and others – to review antibiotic treatment plans for the choice of antimicrobial drug, for the duration of treatment, and for specific conditions. “We work really closely with hospitalists and our strong pediatric pharmacy team every day to ask: ‘Do we have the right dose? Do we really need to use this antibiotic?’ ” Dr. Glaser said.

Last year, she also worked to incorporate antimicrobial stewardship principles into the hospital’s residency program. “I think the most important thing we’re doing is changing the culture,” she said. “For these young physicians, we’re giving them the knowledge to empower them rather than telling them what to do and giving them a better, fundamental understanding of infectious disease.”

For instance, most pediatric respiratory illnesses are caused by a virus, yet physicians will still prescribe antibiotics for a host of reasons – including the expectations of parents, the guesswork that can go into diagnosing a young patient who cannot describe what is wrong, and the fear that children will get sicker if an antibiotic is not started early.

“A lot of it is figuring out the best approach with the least amount of side effects but covering what we need to cover for a given patient,” she said.

A number of physicians from Dr. Glaser’s team presented stewardship data from their hospital at the July 2017 Pediatric Hospital Medicine meeting in Nashville, demonstrating that, overall, they are using fewer antibiotics and that fewer of those used are broad spectrum. This satisfies the “pillars of stewardship,” Dr. Glaser said. Use antibiotics only when you need them, use them only as long as you need, and then make sure you use the most narrow-spectrum antibiotic you possibly can, she said.

Oakland Medical Center has benefited from a strong commitment to antimicrobial stewardship efforts, Dr. Glaser said, noting that many programs may lack such support, a problem that can be one of the biggest hurdles antimicrobial stewardship efforts face. The support at her hospital “has been an immense help in getting our program to where it is today.”


1. Keren R, Shah SS, Srivastava R, et al. Comparative effectiveness of intravenous vs oral antibiotics for postdischarge treatment of acute osteomyelitis in children. JAMA Pediatr. 2015 Feb:169(2):120-8.

2. Shah SS, Srivastava R, Wu S, et al. Intravenous versus oral antibiotics for postdischarge treatment of complicated pneumonia. Pediatrics. 2016 Dec;138(6). pii: e20161692.

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