Antibiotics 101

If you find yourself admitted to a hospital anytime soon, you might find your treatment plan includes a little schooling on the proper use of antibiotics.

Antibiotic resistance has become a serious problem in recent years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 30 percent of antibiotics prescribed in the United States are unnecessary. And that misuse can lead to drug-resistant infections.

“It happens because it’s easier to give antibiotics than it is to tell someone who took time off work — or brought in their sick kid — that you’re not going to give then an antibiotic, especially when they firmly believe that antibiotic is going to get their kid well so they can go back to work or school,” said Dr. Jason Bowling, an infectious disease specialist at UT Health San Antonio and staff epidemiologist at University Health System.

Even in hospitals, the CDC estimates that 20 to 50 percent of antibiotics given across the country are unnecessary or inappropriate. That led the federal government to require that hospitals and nursing care centers put in place a comprehensive antimicrobial stewardship program beginning this year.

University Health System has long had such a program. But the new rules are more complex — and now include an education program for both patients and providers.

Often antibiotics are inappropriately given to fight viral respiratory infections such as colds and sore throats. In other instances, an antibiotic is given for too long a time, or one that kills a broad range of organisms is given rather than one that attacks the precise organism making someone sick.

As the arsenal of antibiotics available to healthcare providers is becoming less effective, few new antibiotics are being developed and approved to take their place.

One of the biggest dangers to arise from the misuse of antibiotics is C. difficile, an infection that attacks the lining of the intestine and can sometimes be fatal.

A new patient video is being developed for University Hospital’s Skylight in-room information and entertainment system about how and why someone might be prescribed an antibiotic. When the patient watches the program, a note is entered into his or her electronic health record that the physician can see.

On the outpatient side, both printed and online information on antibiotics is available in University Health System’s more than two dozen primary care and specialty health centers.

Providers, too, will be getting information on when and how to use antibiotics for various conditions.

“As an infectious disease doctor, I spend a lot of time looking at all this,” Dr. Bowling said. “But for other doctors, it’s just one of many components they have to learn.”