HARTFORD, Conn. -- Despite widespread public alarm about inappropriate use increasing antibiotic ineffectiveness, many Americans still use the drugs improperly. One out of three Americans mistakenly believes antibiotics are effective in treating viruses like cold and flu and takes these drugs to fight them. These survey findings were released today by the Council for Affordable Quality Healthcare (CAQH), a not-for-profit alliance of America's leading health plans and networks, in partnership with Connecticut healthcare organizations as part of a public education initiative to fight this significant public health problem.
Consumers demanding antibiotic treatment for viruses and physicians yielding to this demand have led to the over-prescribing of these drugs. According to the CDC, more than 50 percent of all antibiotics prescribed are unnecessary and can actually do more harm than good by contributing to the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria.
To help curb the inappropriate use of antibiotics and raise awareness of the growing threat of antibiotic resistance, CAQH, in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has launched an education initiative called Save Antibiotic Strength (SAS). Local members of CAQH including Aetna, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, CIGNA, Health Net, Inc., and Oxford Health Plans launched the SAS campaign in Connecticut last year with outreach to healthcare providers to support them in their efforts to educate patients using antibiotics wisely. This year, the SAS initiative is expanding its activities by also reaching out directly to consumers and employers.
"Antibiotic resistance is a much more significant problem than most people realize," said Gordon Grundy, MD, CAQH co-chair, SAS Initiative, and network medical director for Aetna. "With many serious bacterial infections in the United States and abroad developing resistance, it's crucial that we take action now."
The SAS campaign features a variety of educational materials and community outreach programs promoting appropriate antibiotic use among healthcare providers and patients. A public service announcement will air on local radio stations throughout Connecticut, and consumers can call 1-888-WISE-USE for a free brochure. Additional information about antibiotic resistance and SAS is also available on the Internet at http://www.caqh.org/antibioticsinfo .
To help physicians educate their patients about the proper use of antibiotics and the consequences of inappropriate use, the SAS campaign features a physician toolkit with a "prescription" pad for patients with symptoms of viral infections. The "prescription," accompanied by the CDC's physician treatment guidelines for common bacterial (e.g. strep throat) and viral (e.g. common cold) infections, arms physicians with the means to effectively communicate the rationale of their diagnosis and treatment to the patient.
"Public demand for antibiotics plays a major role in their overuse," said Rich Petrucci, MD, CAQH co-chair, SAS Initiative, and Vice President for Chronic Care and Disease Management, Oxford Health Plans. "By bringing together community and healthcare organizations, physicians, schools and employers, we can educate consumers about why antibiotics don't help fight viruses. Unless we act now to educate how inappropriate use leads to antibiotic resistant bacteria, these life-saving drugs may ultimately become obsolete."
According to the survey results released by CAQH, there is a great deal of misinformation among consumers concerning the appropriate use of antibiotics. The survey, conducted by Harris Interactive, also showed that one-third of Americans has stopped taking an antibiotic before finishing the full amount prescribed. Of those who did not finish their medication, 64 percent said that they stopped taking it because they were feeling better, and 44 percent said that they save the leftover medication for the next time they are ill. Not finishing a prescribed treatment of antibiotics contributes to the development of resistant bacteria.
Traditionally known to be powerful medications in reducing illness and death from infectious bacterial diseases, antibiotics still kill bacteria that cause infection in most cases. However, many bacteria are now fighting off antibiotics that once worked well against them, making them harder for physicians to treat. The CDC recommends that consumers talk to their healthcare providers about the appropriate use of antibiotics and follow some basic guidelines to help prevent the spread of antibiotic resistance including:
* Use antibiotics only when prescribed by a healthcare provider.
* Take all of the antibiotics prescribed, even if feeling better. If the
full dose of the medication is not taken, there is a risk of
re-infection and a greater likelihood that antibiotic-resistant
bacteria will develop. Never save "leftovers" for future use.
* Never take antibiotics prescribed for someone else.
* Don't pressure doctors to prescribe antibiotics to treat symptoms of a
cold, flu or other viral illness.
* Wash hands thoroughly and often to help prevent illness and the spread
of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
* Check with your pediatrician to confirm your children are up-to-date on
The Council for Affordable Quality Healthcare is a not-for-profit alliance of America's leading health plans and networks committed to improving the quality of healthcare and reducing administrative burdens for patients, physicians and payers. Created in 1999, CAQH member organizations provide healthcare coverage for more than 100 million Americans. CAQH created the Save Antibiotic Strength campaign in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics (APUA), and other leading community and healthcare organizations across the country to provide Americans with the information they need to use antibiotics wisely.