One unintended consequence of the increased attention to early sepsis identification and intervention can be unnecessary or excessive antibiotic use. Overuse of broad-spectrum antibiotics, in turn, can fuel the emergence of life-threatening infections such as antibiotic-resistant Clostridium difficile, a scourge in many hospitals.
For a sepsis quality improvement (QI) initiative at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, the hospitalist coleaders took several precautions to lessen the risk of antibiotic overuse. Kencee K. Graves, MD, said she and her colleague Devin J. Horton, MD, designed the hospital’s order sets in collaboration with an infectious disease specialist and pharmacist so they could avoid overly broad antibiotics whenever possible. The project also included an educational effort to get pharmacists in the habit of prompting medical providers to initiate antibiotic de-escalation at 48 hours. The hospital had an antibiotic stewardship program that likely helped as well, she said. As a result of their precautions, the team found no significant difference in the amount of broad-spectrum antibiotics doled out before and after their QI pilot project.
Infection control and antimicrobial specialists also can help; they can monitor an area’s resistance profile, create a antibiogram and reevaluate sepsis pathways and order sets to adjust the recommended antibiotics as the resistance profile changes. “I think we still have a long ways to go,” said Andy Odden, MD, SFHM, patient safety officer in the department of medicine at Washington University in St. Louis. “The initial risk of mortality is so much more dramatic than the long-term risks of developing antimicrobial resistors that unless you have the antimicrobial stewardship people with a seat at the table, that voice can get drowned out very easily.”
The antimicrobial stewardship program at University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, has received a boost from technology. The program offers initial guidance on which broad-spectrum antibiotics to consider depending on the suspected source of the sepsis-linked infection. Software by Jackson, Wyo.–based biotech company Teqqa also synthesizes the university hospital’s resistance data based on blood, urine, and sputum cultures. “It can predict the antibiotic sensitivity of a given bug growing out of a given culture on a given unit,” said Craig A. Umscheid, MD, MSCE, of the department of epidemiology and vice chair for quality and safety in the department of medicine at the university.
The bigger issue, Dr. Umscheid said, is when and how to de-escalate antibiotic treatment. “If somebody is feeling better in 48 hours or 72 hours and no cultures have grown back, they have no more fever, and their white counts have normalized, do you start pulling off the antibiotics slowly and, if so, how do you do that?” Several trials are examining such questions, including a multicenter collaboration called DETOURS (De-Escalating Empiric Treatment: Opting-Out of Rx for Selected Patients With Suspected Sepsis). One of the trial’s chief aims is to set up a new opt-out protocol for acute care patients in the wards.