New Survey Shows One-Third of Americans Use Antibiotics Inappropriately

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Findings of a new survey released today show 1 out of 3 Americans mistakenly believes antibiotics are effective in treating viruses like cold and flu, and takes these drugs to fight them. Along with the survey, a partnership of New York health plans and health care organizations announced a new public education initiative designed to raise awareness of the problems associated with inappropriate use of antibiotics and help prevent the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

The initiative entitled Save Antibiotic Strength New York (SASNY) is a unique collaboration bringing together the resources and experience of the Council for Affordable Quality Healthcare (CAQH), physician groups and local health plans to educate the public and physicians alike to fight this significant public health problem. SASNY is funded in part by a New York State Department of Health quality improvement grant designed to improve the quality and efficiency of health care provided to hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers enrolled in managed care plans. The partnership effort involves New York health plans, the New York Chapter of the American College of Physicians- American Society of Internal Medicine (NYACP-ASIM), the New York State Academy of Family Physicians (NYSAFP), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the New York Health Plan Association Council (NYHPA) and the Council for Affordable Quality Healthcare (CAQH), a not-for-profit alliance of America's leading health plans and networks.

"Antibiotic resistance is a much more significant problem than most people realize," said Richard Petrucci, MD, medical director at Oxford Health Plans and chair of the SASNY initiative. "With many serious bacterial infections in the United States and abroad developing resistance, it's crucial that we take action now."

Patients demanding antibiotic treatment for viruses and physicians yielding to this demand have led to the over-prescribing of these drugs, which can cause devastating consequences because bacteria begin to develop resistance to these life-saving drugs. According to the World Health Organization, two Americans die each hour from infections caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

The SASNY 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 in New York and patients can call 1-888-WISE-USE for a free brochure. Additional information about antibiotic resistance and SASNY is also available on the Internet at .

To help physicians educate patients about the proper use of antibiotics and the consequences of inappropriate use, the SASNY campaign features a physician toolkit with a "prescription" pad for patients with symptoms of viral infections. The "prescription," accompanied by the tool kit's patient Q&A handouts and 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 to patients the rationale of their diagnosis and treatment.

"Public demand for antibiotics plays a major role in their overuse," said Paul Gitman, MD, FACP, president of NYACP-ASIM Services, Inc. "By bringing together community and healthcare organizations, physicians, schools and employers, we can educate patients 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."

Health plans participating in the SASNY effort include Oxford Health Plans, Empire BlueCross and BlueShield, Health Net, Wellcare of New York, Independent Health and Capital District Physicians' Health Plan.

According to the survey, released today, there is a great deal of misinformation among Americans concerning the appropriate use of antibiotics. The survey, conducted for CAQH 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.

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 patients 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. Not

finishing a prescribed treatment of antibiotics contributes to the

development of resistant bacteria. 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.

The Council for Affordable Quality Healthcare (CAQH) is a not-for-profit alliance of Americas leading health plans and networks committed to improving the quality of healthcare and reducing administrative burdens for patients, physicians and payers.

Source: Council for Affordable Quality Healthcare