Intermountain Healthcare vows to cut back on antibiotic prescriptions in urgent care network

SALT LAKE CITY — Oftentimes when people feel sick, they will go to the doctor with the thought of walking away with a prescription. That is the type of thing doctors part of the antibiotic stewardship programs at Intermountain Healthcare and the University of Utah Health hope to change.

Tuesday, doctors with the organizations announced the new Urgent Care Antibiotic Initiative. The healthcare providers have received a $1.8 million contract from the CDC to implement the new antibiotic stewardship program in urgent care centers.

The CDC recently released a 2019 study about the threats of antibiotic resistance. Each year, the CDC reports more than 2.8 million people will suffer from an antibiotic-resistant infection. Of those, 35,000 die as a result. You can read the full study here.

“Antibiotics are unique drugs. They are the only drugs that the more we use them, the less effective they become,” said Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, the Medical Director of Antibiotic Stewardship at Intermountain Healthcare.

You can read more on the study from doctors, including those who presented Tuesday here.

People do not become immune to antibiotics, but it’s the bacteria that can become resistant and that is what can spread and become potentially deadly, according to Dr. Anthony Wallin, Intermountain's Medical Director of Urgent Care Service Line.

“We’ve got to stop the proliferation of these superbugs. It will affect all of us in our communities,” he said.

One of the many ways the healthcare leaders are working to stop this is simply by cutting down the number of antibiotics providers prescribe.

“Somewhere between 80 and 90 percent of all antibiotics that are prescribed in the United States originate not in hospitals, but in outpatient settings and in clinics,” said Dr. Adam Hersh a Professor of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at University of Utah Health.

Urgent care clinics are going to be the focus of this initiative. An average of 700,000 patients each year visit Intermountain Healthcare urgent cares. That number continues to go up each year, according to Dr. Wallin.

Part of the initiative is to educate both patients and providers about when antibiotics are necessary, and when the drugs are not.

“Among antibiotic prescriptions that originate in outpatient settings, somewhere between a third and a half of those prescriptions are completely unnecessary,” Dr. Hersh said when it comes to respiratory-related illnesses.

Now, when patients come to an Intermountain Urgent Care, they should expect a new kind of prescription.

“We hand patients prescriptions of what they can do. It is over the counter mainly medications and things they can but it’s in a prescription form. And it’s customized to each patient,” Dr. Wallin said.

Delayed prescriptions are also handed out, meaning people can fill the prescriptions later if they continue to feel sick days later.

“If those symptoms are not improving at the end of 15 days, that’s when we would consider using an antibiotic,” Dr. Stenehjem said.

Of course, there are times when antibiotics are necessary and helpful tools.

Since the initiative began in July, the number of antibiotics prescribed for respiratory issues has been cut down by 20 percent, doctors said Tuesday.

For more information on the initiative, click here.

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