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Conserving antibiotics by using them responsibly

Conserving antibiotics by using them responsibly

Dr. Lizanne Béïque (left), Rosemary Zvonar and Dr. Kathryn Suh are part of a team working to improve patient safety by ensuring antibiotics are used responsibly.

Antibiotics have been used over the past 70 years to treat bacterial infections, but frequent overuse and the lack of new options now threaten to undermine their effectiveness.

The overuse of antibiotics can speed up the development of antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” that can cause debilitating, sometimes deadly bacterial infections. They include Clostridium difficile, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (VRE) and carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE).

When antibiotics no longer work, infections are harder to treat. The cost of illness and the risk of death rise, particularly among the elderly and patients with weakened immune systems.

That’s why whenever she visits a hospital ward, Pharmacist Rosemary Zvonar often brings with her a list of patients who are taking an antibiotic. Sometimes, she will discuss with the physicians treating those patients the rationale for prescribing a specific drug. Other times, she will suggest another option, or recommend the doctors shorten or stop the prescription altogether.

Working with Dr. Kathryn Suh, Medical Director of Infection Prevention and Control, and Dr. Lizanne Béïque, Pharmacist, Zvonar is part of the team behind The Ottawa Hospital’s Antimicrobial Stewardship Program.

The team works to improve patient safety while prolonging the usefulness of antibiotics. Team members provide physicians with science-based tools to guide their antibiotic-prescribing practices. They offer suggestions on the choice, dose and length of time patients should be on antibiotics. Sometimes, they ask whether an antibiotic is needed at all.

Whenever possible, the team encourages physicians to choose “narrow-spectrum” drugs that target specific bacteria strains over “broad-spectrum” antibiotics that should be used only in special situations, or as last-resort treatments when all else has failed.

“The physicians who are prescribing antibiotics are doing what they think is best for patients,” said Dr. Suh. “It’s also appropriate for patients to ask why they should be on antibiotics in the first place.”

Three questions patients should ask their doctors when antibiotics are prescribed:

  1. Why do I need these antibiotics?
  2. What are the potential side effects?
  3. How long do I need to take them?

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