Healthcare steps up to superbugs

'It's a problem that could result in the medicine chest being empty when we need it most'
By Bernie Monegain
09:53 AM

Four big-name healthcare systems have joined the national effort to fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria in a big way.

The providers are part of a White House initiative to tackle the deadly problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria – superbugs. The Obama Administration announced the initiative Tuesday at a White House forum on the growing threat.

The problem, as described by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is that antibiotic resistance – when bacteria don’t respond to the drugs designed to kill them – threatens to return humans to a time when simple infections were often fatal.

Speaking at the White House forum Tuesday Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell noted that every year at least 2 million people become infected to bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics, and 23,000 people die a year.

[See also: Two dead, 179 exposed to superbug at UCLA Medical Center]

"The threat is real," she said. "The time to act is now. We know that lives are on the line, but we can meet this challenge and we will find a solution."

As CDC Director Tom Frieden tweeted Tuesday: "Orgs pledging to improve #antibiotic use @WhiteHouse forum today is just a start. Great progress, much more needed."

Speaking at the forum, Frieden said, "Drug-resistant bacteria is a serious problem. It's a problem that could result in the medicine chest being empty when we need it most. It's not too late to turn it around."

[See also: FDA calls for medical device oversight]

The forum spotlighted these health systems that have made a commitment to take on the challenge.

  • Ascension Health will establish facility-based antimicrobial stewardship programs in all Ascension hospitals and adopt the CDC’s Core Elements of Hospital Antibiotic Stewardship Programs, submit antibiotic use and resistance data to CDC, plus regularly evaluate facility antibiograms (the result of a laboratory test for the sensitivity of an isolated bacterial strain to different antibiotics).
  • Hospital Corporation of America will develop and implement new clinical decision support and real-time antibiogram tracking to rapidly respond to lab results, catch bug-drug mismatches, implement strategy to prevent health-care associated infections in adult intensive care unit patients, and strengthen national efforts to identify and report cases of antibiotic resistance.
  • Intermountain Healthcare will reduce inappropriate outpatient antibiotic use for upper respiratory conditions by 50% by 2020, ensure all Intermountain Healthcare acute care hospitals have antimicrobial stewardship programs by the end of 2017, plus support telemedicine efforts to extend infectious disease expertise to rural healthcare settings.
  • Kaiser Permanente will support antibiotic stewardship programs and guide prescribing practices for antimicrobials at every Kaiser Medical Center with electronic alerts, order sets, etc.

Several more healthcare organizations were also listed on a roster of "committed organizations," the White House released. They include the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association, the Federation of American Hospitals, Carolinas Health System, the Joint Commission, Johns Hopkins Medicine, Johnson & Johnson, the Pediatric Infectious Disease Society and University of Pennsylvania Health System.

In addition to the healthcare sector, the White House Forum on Antibiotic Stewardship brought together more than 150 food companies, retailers, and human and animal health stakeholders who committed to making changes over the next five years to slow the emergence of resistant bacteria and prevent the spread of resistant infections.

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