A variety of antibiotic pills
Antibiotic Resistance

Antibiotics Are Commonly Over-Prescribed for Urological Procedures

Antibiotics are being overused in up to 50 percent of patients who undergo routine urological procedures, a new study shows.

The study, led by Daniel Livorsi, MD, University of Iowa assistant professor of internal medicine, shows that the overuse was mostly due to extended use of antibiotics following the procedure.

The findings were published Dec. 21 in JAMA Network Open.

Patients undergoing urological or other surgical procedures are commonly given antibiotics to prevent a surgery-related infection. At the same time, though, excessive use of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistance, which the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines as a major health concern.

The American Urological Association (AUA) recommends that antibiotics be given for no more than 24 hours following most urological procedures.

bacteria specifically resistant to antibiotics

The investigation by Livorsi and his colleagues analyzed whether urologists are finding the AUA guidelines. They manually reviewed the medical records of 375 patients who had one of three common urological procedures. These procedures all use endoscopic devices inserted into the urethra to examine and manipulate portions of the urinary tract. The patients were treated between January 2016 and July 2017 at five Veterans Health Administration hospitals located in different parts of the U.S.

The team also reviewed administrative data from 29,530 patient records from the entire Veterans Health Administration system.

Overall, the study found that 217 of the 375 patients (58 percent) were prescribed antibiotics in a way that did not follow the AUA guidelines. The most common deviation from the guidelines involved antibiotic-prescribing after the procedure: 177 patients (47 percent) were given antibiotics without a clear indication for longer than 24 hours following a procedure. In fact, patients were often given antibiotics for three to five days following a procedure instead of the 24 hours or less that the guidelines recommend.

The national administrative data also showed high rates of excess antibiotic prescribing; nearly 40 percent of records showed a median of three extra days of antibiotic therapy.

“This study shows that antibiotics are often continued for several days after common urologic procedures, even when there is no clear indication for antibiotics. This seemingly unnecessary use of antibiotics is exposing patients to potential harm,” said Livorsi, who also is a physician with University of Iowa Health Care and the Iowa City VA Health Care System. “Reducing unnecessary antibiotic use in this setting is just one example of how physicians can be better stewards of antibiotics.”

The team chose to look at patients within the VA system because it is the largest integrated health care system in the United States, which makes it easier to do this type of study. However, Livorsi does not think the findings are unique to the VA. He notes other studies in non-VA settings have found similar results.

“This seemingly unnecessary use of antibiotics is exposing patients to potential harm.”

The study did not investigate why urologists are prescribing antibiotics for longer than recommended after a procedure. Given that the AUA provides clear recommendations for antibiotic therapy during these procedures, Livorsi believes it would be helpful to understand if urologists are not aware of the guidelines and the evidence behind them, or if there are other reasons why urologists are not adhering to the recommendations.

Nonetheless, the researchers believe the study identifies the post-procedure period as a good opportunity to improve antibiotic prescribing in a way that could decrease antibiotic resistance and reduce health care costs without harming patient outcomes.

“If a patient undergoing surgery is given antibiotics for more than 24 hours, he or she should ask the provider to explain why more antibiotics are necessary,” Livorsi said.

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