Antibiotic resistance is in the news once again. The World Health Organization has just named a dirty dozen list of superbugs. Those in the know say we should find these bacteria as terrifying as the Ebola or Zika virus. But unlike Ebola or Zika, the dirty dozen microbes have already spread across the U.S. The CDC estimates they’ll kill at least 23,000 Americans each year. Two million will fall ill with drug resistant bacteria.
How can onsite clinics be heroes in the fight against superbugs? We'll look at what's causing the problem, and see how onsite clinics can make a major difference.
Why drug resistance is growing so quickly
Public health experts are alarmed by the rate at which new strains of drug resistant bacteria are emerging. We’re running out of treatment options. The bacteria that are resistant to multiple antibiotics are clever villains. They find new ways to morph so that existing treatments are no longer effective against them. Like the vampires of fiction, they can pass their genetic morphing powers along to other bacteria that become drug resistant in turn. Even when we humans eat meat from animals raised with antibiotics, the resistance the animals developed to those antibiotics can be transferred to us. The potential for catastrophe has been compared to a national security threat from terrorism.
We are not developing new antibiotics quickly enough to stay ahead of the superbugs. Drug companies say the research costs are very high, and the payback is low. They have focused instead on treatments for chronic conditions, which get much longer patient use and are more profitable.
Meanwhile, antibiotics in medicine may not be used long, but the way we use them is too often wrong. The wrong reason for treatment, the wrong length of treatment or the wrong choice of antibiotic occurs in 30% to 50% of prescriptions in the U.S. Some prescribing situations are very complicated. But some antibiotic misuse happens at a very basic level. For example, antibiotics only work against bacteria – not against viruses such as a cold or flu. Mistreating a viral infection with antibiotics makes these important drugs less effective for all of us. By now, we've seen resistance to nearly all antibiotics developed. Even the newer drugs developed to combat resistant bacteria are starting to lose the battle.
How Healthstat clinics can help slow the resistance
Healthstat clinicians are powerful allies in the fight against superbugs. We’re not only medical providers, but also health coaches and advocates. We spend more time with patients so we can get to know them and build trust. This makes it easier to monitor symptoms and make more informed shared treatment decisions. Our workplace clinics are convenient and available to patients at little or no cost. That lowers barriers to coming in sooner, so patients don’t have to get sicker than need be. And it makes it easier to come back when a return visit is needed. Since we can see a patient more often, we're able to make our evaluations based on multiple data points. We also know that patients want education, not just medication. Healthstat clinicians don't face the same pressure to prescribe unnecessary antibiotics that other providers often describe.
Healthstat clinicians use the state of the art UpToDate database to guide treatment decisions at the point of care. The best scientific evidence available for prescribing is in their hands. And our clinicians have time to promote medication adherence, counseling patients on how to take their prescriptions the right way.
Sometimes people stop taking antibiotic prescriptions when they feel better because they think it's wise to have a few pills left over in case they get an infection again. But unfinished prescriptions can kill off less resistant bugs while clearing the way for superbugs to flourish. At Healthstat clinics, we encourage our patients to come for a clinic visit whenever they need to. They won’t have to take off from work, and it won’t break the bank.
Healthstat clinics can provide one of the many fortresses we will need to fight against superbugs. We are here to help people use antibiotics correctly. We’re a line of defense in making wiser choices for both personal and public health.