Needlessly treating bacterial infections and viruses with antibiotics costs $300 million a year nationally that could be better spent, says a report.
Inappropriate treatment also has a significant impact on morbidity, mortality and treatment costs, according to the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care.
The commission said the use of “antimicrobials” appeared higher than in other countries with studies showing that as many as 50 per cent of antibiotic regimens prescribed in Australian hospitals were considered unsuitable.
“Inappropriate antimicrobial use increases the risk to patients of colonisation and infection with resistant organisms and subsequent transmission to other patients,” the report said.
“Patients with antimicrobial-resistant infections experience the consequences of ineffective treatment, recurrent infection, delayed recovery or even death.”
Patients with resistant infections were twice as likely to die.
The emergence and selection of resistant bacteria and other organisms, driven by inappropriate antimicrobial use and subsequent transmission among hospital patients, had a significant impact not only on healthcare costs but also on societal costs, the report said.
Courses of antibiotics were often continued longer than necessary because the prescription was not time-limited while consumers also contributed to the overuse of antimicrobials by applying pressure on doctors to prescribe antibiotics for viral infections such as the common cold.
“In Australia, it has been estimated that $300 million of the Australian national health budget could be re-directed to better use if there was optimal antimicrobial use and containment of antimicrobial resistance.”
The commission has developed a number of what it describes as “essential strategies” needed to arrest the overuse of antimicrobials, including the introduction of clinical guidelines consistent with advice from the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
There should also be a review and audit of antimicrobial prescribing with intervention and direct feedback to the prescriber.
A number of recommendations were also made, including that there be more effective education of prescribers and pharmacists about antimicrobial use, as well as the introduction of information technology such as electronic prescribing.
The commission was established by federal, state and territory health ministers to lead and coordinate improvements in safety and quality.
© 2009 AAP
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald, December 16, 2009, http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-national/needless-use-of-antibiotics-costs-300m-20091217-kxri.html