Over-Prescribing of Antibiotics May Be Putting Hospital Patients at Risk

Staphylococcus_aureus_VISA_2.jpgMedication errors, such as dispensing the incorrect dosage of a medication or the wrong medication altogether, are unfortunately common occurrences in hospitals and local pharmacies all over the country. Doctors can make errors by prescribing the wrong dosage or the wrong medication. A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that a significant number of antibiotic prescriptions may be unnecessary, prescribing either too much of a drug or a drug that the patient does not need. Overuse of these medications may be causing additional health problems for some patients, but doctors and pharmacists may be able to work together to improve service to patients and reduce the risk of errors and injuries.

The CDC’s Vital Signs report for March 2014 discusses antibiotic prescriptions in hospitals. Its three main findings are rather troubling. First, the report states that over half of all patients receive antibiotics in some amount during a hospital stay. Next, it states that hospitals vary widely in the amount of antibiotics they prescribe for patients, with doctors in some hospitals prescribing up to three times as many antibiotics as those in other hospitals. Overuse of antibiotics can have a negative impact on patients’ health, according to the CDC’s report, including growing antibiotic resistance and potentially deadly bacterial infections. Its third main finding is that reducing the use of antibiotics classified as “high-risk” could bring a corresponding reduction in these infections.

Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections. The CDC reports that the most common uses for antibiotics are to treat lung infections, urinary tract infections (UTIs), and infections by methiciliin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), an increasingly-common drug-resistant form of bacteria. As many as one-third of antibiotic prescriptions written for UTIs, the CDC found, contained errors, such as insufficient testing or diagnosis, or courses of treatment that were too long. Bacteria can build up resistance to antibiotics, as demonstrated by MRSA infections, and excessive or unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions add to that problem.

The CDC also found that antibiotics administered in the hospital can actually put patients at risk for infection by Clostridium difficile, a bacterium that causes severe diarrhea and can be fatal. It reportedly infects 250,000 hospitalized patients per year and causes 14,000 deaths. Four categories of antibiotics are categorized as “high-risk.” The CDC claims that a thirty percent reduction in their use, which would constitute five percent of all antibiotic use in the country, would reduce the incidence of C. difficile by twenty-six percent. This could translate to 65,000 fewer infections and 3,640 fewer deaths.

To address this problem, the CDC offers recommendations for hospitals, doctors, pharmacists, patients, and others. Doctors should stay apprised of new developments in antibiotic research and patterns of resistance to specific drugs. They should carefully evaluate patients before prescribing anything, and document and monitor patients’ dosages and courses of treatment. Hospitals should assign one pharmacist with antibiotic expertise to “support improved prescribing,” and should regularly distribute information about resistance patterns. Patients should ask for tests to determine the right antibiotic treatment, and make sure that doctors and hospital staff follow all hygiene procedures to prevent infections.

The Maryland attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen can assist victims of medication errors, who have been injured by drugs prescribed, dispensed, or administered incorrectly. To schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case, contact us today online or at (800) 654-1949.

More Blog Posts:

Proposed Laws Increasing Ratio of Pharmacy Technicians to Pharmacists Could Adversely Impact Patient Safety, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog, March 5, 2014
Hospital Uses “Storytelling” Approach to Prevent Medication Errors, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog, February 13, 2014
Hospital Allegedly Gives Infant Incorrect Dosage of Medication for Meningitis Treatment, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog, February 6, 2014
Content Provider: CDC/ Matthew J. Arduino, DRPH. Photo Credit: Janice Haney Carr [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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