Healthcare News & Insights

Doctors overprescribe antibiotics: How hospitals can curb the trend

Overuse of antibiotics is putting patients in danger, and hospitals are some of the worst offenders.

156218085According to a recent Vital Signs report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than half of all patients in the hospital are prescribed antibiotics, whether they’re needed or not.

Even worse: Prescribing habits vary greatly, depending upon the hospital. The CDC said that doctors in some hospitals doled out antibiotics at a rate up to three times higher than other doctors in similar areas at other facilities.

And many doctors aren’t performing the proper diagnostic tests before prescribing the drugs. In almost one out of three cases, doctors who ordered antibiotics for urinary tract infections didn’t follow the correct medical protocol. The same was true when the CDC examined prescribing practices for vancomycin, a powerful drug used to treat serious infections.

Effects of overprescribing

Routinely giving patients antibiotics without proper testing and monitoring can have drastic consequences. Not only does this give rise to deadly, antibiotic-resistant superbugs, it also puts patients at risk for allergic reactions and other serious illnesses, including clostridium difficile (C. diff).

Putting better protocol in place for antibiotic use can improve patients’ health – and even save their lives. According to the CDC, hospital patients who are given strong antibiotics that fight against a variety of infections – like vancomycin – are nearly three times more likely to contract an even worse infection. And if hospitals reduce the use of high-risk antibiotics by 30%, C.diff rates would decline by 26%.

A practical approach for hospitals

Bolstered by a recent announcement that the new U.S. budget contains $30 million to fight antibiotic-resistant superbugs, the CDC will be ramping up its efforts to decrease antibiotic resistance.

But the real work needs to start at hospitals first. With the right strategy, hospital execs can improve their doctors’ antibiotic prescribing practices to help meet this goal. The CDC suggests that hospital leaders adopt this seven-step approach:

  1. Show leadership commitment. Get staff buy-in by dedicating the necessary resources (e.g., financial, IT, personnel) to fixing the problem.
  2. Create accountability. Designate a leader who will be in charge of the program’s success. One of your physicians may be great at this role.
  3. Seek out drug expertise: Appoint one pharmacist to help improve your antibiotic prescribing. This staffer will work closely with your leader to make sure clinicians are following best practices.
  4. Take action. Have your leader put improvements in action immediately. One good way to start is to require reassessment of patients within 48 hours to check that they’re taking the type and dosage of any medications, and that they’re taking the drugs for the correct duration.
  5. Track your progress. Look for any patterns in antibiotic prescribing, or antibiotic resistance, in your hospital, and take the necessary steps to correct any issues.
  6. Report your findings. Make sure staffers are aware of any problems you uncover, along with the improvements they need to make. And let them know if changes are working, too. This boosts morale and improves compliance.
  7. Educate staff regularly. Offer continuing training and education about antibiotic resistance and the most effective prescribing practices to avoid issues.

It’s also important for hospital leaders to work closely with other healthcare systems and organizations to prevent health problems caused by the overuse of antibiotics. Sharing data about antibiotic use and resistance, as well as infection rates, can help hospitals better understand the scope of the problem. Then they can collaborate for solutions to benefit everyone across the board.

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