Healthcare News & Insights

CDC study: Hospitals still need to improve antibiotic use

Antibiotic resistance is becoming a significant problem in this country, and it’s contributing to the rise of various superbugs that infect hospital patients. New research about prescribing habits shows that hospitals must make more of an effort to rein in the overuse of antibiotics by providers. 

gettyimages-508709862According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hospitals are still administering highly potent, “last-resort” antibiotics to patients at high rates, instead of opting for less aggressive drugs.

An article in the Wall Street Journal about the CDC study said that this practice represents a growing trend toward the use of strong antibiotics, even as the feds have urged hospitals to be more mindful of doctors’ prescribing habits.

Prescribing challenges

Specifically, the JAMA study looked at prescribing information for around 300 hospitals in the Truven Health MarketScan Hospital Drug Database. When reviewing this data, researchers discovered that, during a six-year period between 2006 and 2012, the use of carbapenems, or strong antibiotics designed for worst-case scenarios with various infections, rose by 37%.

While researchers didn’t offer any reasons why this spike in use occurred, healthcare experts quoted in the Wall Street Journal piece said that some of these practices may be influenced in part by increased antibiotic resistance for bacteria.

Evidence from the study supports this view. The bump in use for stronger antibiotics came along with a decline in the use of certain types of antibiotics that aren’t as effective anymore due to bacterial resistance. Most notably, the use of fluroquniolone antibiotics decreased by 20%.

But even if this is the case, overuse of antibiotics is still a big problem. The CDC study found that the overall level of antibiotic prescribing didn’t change at all for hospitals, despite the agency’s ongoing campaign to boost antibiotic stewardship in facilities – which includes encouraging providers to prescribe them less often.

Impact on hospitals

It can be difficult to change prescribing practices doctors have had for decades, and some providers default to putting patients on antibiotics, whether the drugs are necessary to treat their illnesses or not. This mindset has played a big role in making certain bacteria resistant to classes of drugs. And it’ll only continue to limit hospitals’ options for treating dangerous infections.

That means it’s crucial for hospitals to take a close look at their antibiotic use on a regular basis, monitoring both overall usage and usage by certain providers. Facilities need to have a clear plan in place for antibiotic stewardship that encourages more mindful antibiotic prescribing patterns (e.g., the use of “nudges” to get providers to change their habits).

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