NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 4, 2008

Some two million people acquire bacterial infections in U.S. hospitals each year, and 90,000 of those patients die as a result.  Hospitals are now turning to a new breed of antibiotic SWAT team to win the war against these "super bugs" -- bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, says the Wall Street Journal.

These efforts, known as antimicrobial stewardship programs, team top pharmacists, infectious-disease specialists and microbiologists together to monitor the use of a hospital's antibiotics and restrict prescriptions of specific drugs when they become less effective at fighting infections.  The heightened vigilance comes as the federal Medicare program plans to begin refusing to pay hospitals to treat preventable infections that patients contract while under the facilities' care, says the Journal. 

Fortunately, hospitals are already producing tangible results, says the Journal:

  • At Hunterdon Medical Center in Flemington, New Jersey, a 2007 test found that 51 percent of cultures of Klebsiella pneumonia -- which causes pneumonia, urinary tract and wound infections -- were susceptible to ciprofloxacin, up from 27 percent a year earlier.
  • At Maine Medical Center in Portland, a trend of rising bacterial resistance was reversed, bacterial susceptibility to certain antibiotics improved by between 20 percent and 47 percent and the hospital has been able to maintain those trends since that time.
  • Studies at the University of Pennsylvania have shown that over a one-year period, the hospital saved $302,400 on antibiotic costs, $533,000 on infection-related costs and $4.2 million in costs measured from start of intervention in antibiotic therapy to hospital discharge from shorter ICU stays; the program also showed a trend toward decreased emergence of resistance.

One problem not to be overlooked, warns the Journal, is that these programs can also override doctors' own decisions and force them to answer to pharmacists, who previously merely filled their orders.

Source: Laura Landro, "Curbing Antibiotic Use In War on 'Superbugs'," Wall Street Journal, September 3, 2008.

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