I am a pediatrician and a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Last week, I received an alert from the Academy that got my attention. The alert said that the majority of pediatric Clostridium difficile infections, which are bacterial infections that cause severe diarrhea and are potentially life-threatening, occur among children in the general community who recently took antibiotics prescribed in doctors’ offices for other conditions. This came from a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The study showed that 71 percent of the cases of C. difficile infection identified among children aged 1 through 17 years were community-associated—that is, not associated with an overnight stay in a healthcare facility. By contrast, two-thirds of C. difficile infections in adults are associated with hospital stays. The CDC has data to show that many patients get prescriptions for antibiotics when the evidence shows that they are not necessary.
The FY 2015 Federal Budget requests funding for CDC for an initiative to reduce outpatient prescribing of antibiotics by up to 20 percent and healthcare-associated C. difficile infections by 50 percent in five years. A 50 percent reduction in healthcare-associated C. difficile infections could save 20,000 lives, prevent 150,000 hospitalizations, and cut more than $2 billion in healthcare costs.
After reading this, I was reflecting on people rushing to Urgent Care Centers and their doctor’s office to get antibiotics, frequently for viral illnesses where the antibiotics don’t actually help. I am curious about what would happen to business at Urgent Care Centers if the rate of antibiotic prescribing went down, as the CDC is trying to encourage. I also wonder if physicians in their offices would have more time to spend with their patients talking about what would actually improve their health if they were not writing so many prescriptions.
It is absolutely clear that antibiotics were a major breakthrough of the twentieth century and that antibiotics improve health and save many lives when they are used appropriately, but doctors, nurse practitioners, pharmacists and patients need to do a better job of making sure that the use of all drugs, but especially antibiotics, follows the evidence.