Information technology comprises one of the components of an overall strategy to better manage the use of antibiotics in healthcare, and three major healthcare organizations are pushing for a strategic approach to curb overuse of the drugs.

The healthcare industry has increasingly realized that widespread use of antibiotics increases the likelihood that bacteria will become resistant to the drugs, raising patient safety concerns and driving up costs to the system.

The National Quality Forum, Centers for Disease Control and hospital chain HCA are offering new guidance on better management of antibiotics, including broader use of IT to address research and information dissemination.

“Driven in part by antibiotic overuse and misuse, increasing antibiotic resistance is an urgent concern for the healthcare field as well as for public health and national security,” the organizations’ guidance says. The more an antibiotic is used, the more bacteria evolve to develop resistance to it. The organizations warn of growing threats of “super-bugs” that are increasingly impervious to existing drug regimens.

Already, drug-resistant bacteria cause 23,000 deaths and 2 million illnesses annually, authors say, resulting in avoidable costs of as much as $42 billion annually. Further, 30 percent to 50 percent of hospital-prescribed antibiotics are unnecessary or inappropriate.

The three organizations call for use of several levers to improve antibiotic stewardship. These include clear leadership commitment and financial support, regulatory and accreditation standards, public reporting requirements that may be linked to payment, quality improvement programs, provider and patient engagement, and information technology.

Suggested IT components include support of funding for remote consultations with antibiotic stewardship experts and prioritized funding for new IT capabilities. For instance, some electronic health record systems now include the capability to report data directly to the CDC’s National Healthcare Safety Network Antibiotic Use program, which could provide better data or help identify trends in inappropriate prescriptions.

The guidance is comprehensive, offering a wide range of suggestions under six core elements of antibiotic use—these include leadership commitment; accountability; drug expertise; actions to support optimal antibiotic use, tracking and monitoring antibiotic prescribing, use and resistance; and reporting information on improving antibiotic use and resistance.

The guidance, “Antibiotic Stewardship in Acute Care: A Practical Playbook,” is available here.

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