Hospital pharmacist-led approach can reduce antibiotic use

In small, community hospitals that don't have resources for a dedicated staff to oversee the proper use of antibiotics, turning to staff pharmacists showed promise in a model study conducted by Duke Health.

The study, which included four community hospitals in North Carolina, demonstrated an approach that could be expanded to the nation's wider network of small hospitals, where more than half of the U.S. population accesses care.

"This is a matter of major consequence, because up to 50 percent of antibiotic use in our study was inappropriate, meaning there was a better choice or the prescription was simply unnecessary," said Deverick Anderson, M.D., director of the Duke Center for Antimicrobial Stewardship and Infection Prevention and lead author of the study publishing Friday in JAMA Network Open.

"We have to develop systems that are scalable and effective in helping reduce the improper or needless use of antibiotics at every level," Anderson said, noting that overuse of these critical drugs has led to the spread of deadly superbugs that are resistant to previously effective treatments.

Anderson and colleagues partnered with the community hospitals in North Carolina to explore how best to perform active, CDC-recommended stewardship interventions using existing hospital resources.

Two strategies were tested using hospital pharmacists as designated stewards. In one strategy, pharmacists were enlisted as the gatekeepers for antibiotic use, giving pre-approval to doctors before the drugs could be prescribed to patients.

The pre-approval aspect was quickly determined to be too difficult, because doctors wanted the flexibility and autonomy to manage their patients. Instead, a modified approach was adopted, in which doctors could prescribe the first dose of antibiotic, but that was followed by a pharmacist review.

The second tested strategy involved a post-prescription audit, where pharmacists reviewed the effectiveness of the antibiotic to determine whether it should be continued or changed after the patient received the antibiotic for three days.

All four hospitals participated in both intervention for six months, covering a total of nearly 2,700 patients.

The study found that pharmacists at the four participating hospitals performed 1,456 modified prescription approvals and 1,236 post-prescription audits. Study antimicrobials were determined to be inappropriate two-times as often under the post-prescription audit strategy compared to the modified pre-approval strategy.

Overall antibiotic utilization decreased under the audit system compared to historical controls, but the modified prescription authorization intervention did not reduce the use of antibiotics.

Even modest decreases in antimicrobial utilization are valuable, particularly when potentially achievable in the more than 3,000 community hospitals in the U.S. This study suggests there are approaches that can work, even in hospitals where resources might be limited."

Deverick Anderson, M.D., director, Duke Center for Antimicrobial Stewardship and Infection Prevention

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