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Are You an Antibiotics Steward or Deadbeat?

 |  By Philip Betbeze  
   November 20, 2015


If your healthcare organization is weak on antibiotics stewardship, it's not meeting its most basic goal: Do no harm.

Antibiotic resistance is everyone's problem, and yet it's no one's.

It's impossible to tell with any degree of accuracy how any one physician's prescription activity is fouling the effectiveness of critical lifesaving drugs or contributing to the rapid development of antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

But on a grand scale, the problem of antibiotics overuse is plain: It's causing unnecessary suffering and death. For healing organizations then, it seems antibiotics stewardship should be a top priority for those in the c-suite who are in a position to do something about it.

Too frequently isn't.

"Frankly, this conversation is invisible in most corporate suites, but it's very important," says Cliff Deveny, MD, senior vice president of physician services and clinical integration at Englewood, Colorado-based Catholic Health Initiatives, which operates health systems in 19 states.

Deveny was speaking at the ABX Crossroads national symposium earlier this month in Nashville, which I attended. The conference was aimed at exploring the clinical, financial, and operational challenges facing healthcare providers in the "post-antibiotic era," and sought to define practical strategies to help clinicians elevate this issue to the forefront in the c-suite.

Deveny says that thanks to the global nature of the antibiotics resistance problem, it can be easy to push it to the back burner at individual organizations. It's up to pharmacists, hospitalists, infection control specialists, and healthcare administrators to educate boards and senior executives to the importance of addressing the problem on the organizational level.

This is not a problem to be blamed exclusively on the healthcare industry. To be sure, the livestock industry, a terrible abuser of antibiotics, is another culprit of the rapid development of antibiotic resistance. A paper published just this week in the journal Pediatrics says the livestock industry's use of antibiotics is affecting doctors' ability to treat life-threatening illnesses in children.

Still, hospitals and health systems are prime examples of an industry that's not doing enough.

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"It's critical for you all to have the message, the examples, and the stories of why this is so important," Deveny told a roomful of about 200 attendees from across the country.

Philip Betbeze is the senior leadership editor at HealthLeaders.

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