When you think of drug abuse, understandably medicine like oxycodone or fentanyl come to mind.

Another abuse has been occurring lately, and the fault often lies with the prescribing doctor.

Overuse of antibiotic prescriptions for patients with upper respiratory illnesses at urgent care clinics in the United States has been an ongoing challenge, but a new study led by researchers at two Utah health systems – Intermountain Health and University of Utah Health – finds that a targeted approach utilizing antibiotic stewardship practices significantly reduces overuse of these medications.

In this Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) funded study, published today in JAMA Network Open, researchers were able to reduce prescribing rates at urgent care clinics by 15% – which equates to millions of doses of antibiotics – by using antibiotic stewardship initiatives specifically designed for these outpatient settings.

This included educating patients and clinicians, improving the electronic health record to make doing the right thing easy for clinicians, providing transparent data to the clinicians on how their antibiotic prescribing compared to peers, and using a communications campaign and signage to ensure patients were aware of efforts to enhance their health.

Researchers say that when healthcare systems create and implement a tailored and targeted intervention designed specifically for urgent care facilities, they can be successful in ensuring patients are receiving more appropriate care for their illnesses.

The problem -- and the reason for the push to reduce the prescribing of antibiotics -- taking antibiotics for colds and other viral illnesses doesn't work and can create bacteria that are harder to kill.

And, taking antibiotics too often or for the wrong reasons can change bacteria so much that antibiotics don't work against them. This is called bacterial resistance or antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calls it "one of the world's most pressing public health problems." It's especially a concern in low-income and developing countries. According to Kidshealth.org, that's because:

  • Health care providers in these areas often lack quick, helpful diagnostic tools that can identify which illnesses are caused by bacteria and which are not.
  • Many of the areas only recently got widespread access to antibiotics.
  • Lack of clean water, poor sanitation, and limited vaccine programs contribute to the infections and illnesses that antibiotics are prescribed for
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