June 19 (UPI) -- About half of the 10 million antibiotic prescriptions written by doctors in emergency departments go to people with viral infections, which are unresponsive to antibiotics. But researchers say they have devised methods to pull back these unneeded prescriptions.
In a study published Wednesday in Academic Emergency Medicine, researchers show that educating physicians and patients may drop the overprescribing and overuse of antibiotics by more than 30 percent. Their work compared two methods of reaching this goal.
"We found education with an on-site champion reduced inappropriate antibiotic use by a third across the board," Larissa May, professor of emergency medicine at UC Davis Health and study senior author, said in a news release. "Our study shows that this relatively simple approach can get us to near-zero inappropriate antibiotic use for acute respiratory infections."
The researchers tracked nearly 45,000 visits for viral acute respiratory infections to five adult and pediatric emergency departments and four urgent care centers in California and Colorado. They counted how many times the 292 medical providers mistreated patients with antibiotics.
Improper use of antibiotics puts patients at increased risk for opportunistic infections and antibiotic resistance, which kills 23,000 people each year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
One way of helping physicians to make better decisions in prescribing antibiotics was through educational materials provided by the Be Antibiotics Aware campaign, developed by the CDC. The second option involved doctors receiving feedback on how to better prescribe antibiotics and comparing their efforts to other physicians.
May and her team used aspects from each method to create the MITIGATE antimicrobial stewardship toolkit.
"We need strategies that promote the careful prescribing of antibiotics in emergency departments and urgent care centers to slow the spread of antibiotic resistance and reduce unnecessary harm to patients from antibiotics," May said.