Study May Reduce Administration of Antibiotics in Critically Ill Patients

By measuring the levels of a natural body chemical, doctors can decrease the length of time an antibiotic is used.

According to the findings of a recent study, by measuring the levels of a natural body chemical, doctors can decrease the length of time an antibiotic is used, as well as improve the health outcomes of critically ill patients.

“Infection is a common and expensive complication of critical illness and we’re trying to find ways to improve the outcomes of sick, elderly patients and, at the same time, reduce health care costs,” reported Daren Heyland, a professor of Medicine at Queen’s, director of the Clinical Evaluation Research Unit at Kingston General Hospital, and scientific director of the Technology Evaluation in the Elderly Network.

Extended antibiotic use is connected to a rise in drug-resistant pathogens. As such, it is common sense, as Heyland stated, to analyze methods in which physicians can alter the duration of antibiotic treatment to be more accurate without compromising the patient’s health.

Heyland and his fellow colleagues John Muscedere (School of Medicine) and Ana Johnson (Department of Community Health and Epidemiology) performed a review of five seperate studies. They discovered that measuring levels of the chemical procalcitonin (PCT) may be an effective method to supervise the presence of an infection, as PCT levels react to an infection by rising, and falling when an antibiotic treatment is effective.

The researchers also found that using PCT levels to guide antibiotic treatment means that a course of antibiotics can generally be reduced by two days without risking the health of the patient or the length of his/her stay in the intensive care unit.

The researchers also associated this reduction with a $470 saving per treatment course. As infections like ventilator-associated pneumonia are rather frequent in hospital intensive care units, this reduction in price for an individual treatment could result in significant savings in overall health care costs.

“This study is an example of the kind of technology evaluation that is so important to do, to inform clinicians and health care decision makers how to achieve best patient outcomes with the least costs,” concluded Johnson.

These findings were recently published in Critical Care Medicine.