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The Fight Against Drug-Resistant Superbugs

posted by Chris Regal, Director, Clinical Innovations

on July 15, 2019

Health insurance providers educate patients, providers on
appropriate antibiotic use

A growing number of infections are becoming resistant to antibiotic medications, making treatment less effective when people need it most. To prevent and combat antibiotic-resistant infections,  health insurance providers promote antibiotic stewardship, leverage data, and collaborate with national and global partners.

Education and advocacy is an important part of solutions to antibiotic resistance, and it’s paying off. A recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that the U.S. public is largely aware of antibiotic-resistant infections and the rise in resistant bacteria. More than 70% of Americans were familiar with the term antibiotic resistance, and more than half were familiar with the term superbugs.  Additionally, more than half of the people polled considered antibiotic overuse a major problem, comparable to concern for the measles outbreak.

Most people knew the negative consequences of antibiotic overuse and misuse, such as longer-lasting and more dangerous bacterial infections, higher costs to treat these infections, and more life-threatening illness affecting infants and seniors, according to the poll.

Learn about strategies to antibiotic-resistant infections in this AHIP issue brief.

The survey results are encouraging, as insurance providers continue to educate the public about the risks of antibiotic resistance. Geisinger Health Plan, for example, created a series of patient education articles on its website, BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina issued a fact sheet, and MVP Health Care published a series of brochures to educate members about antibiotics.  These insurance providers explain when antibiotics may not be appropriate – to treat a common cold – and when antibiotics are not recommended – to treat an upper respiratory infection.

The survey also shows gaps in knowledge of antibiotic resistance:

  • 55% said viral infections could be cured with antibiotics or didn’t know if they could be
  • 47% said the flu could be cured with antibiotics or were unsure
  • 45% indicated they haven’t always taken antibiotics as prescribed – a driving factor of antibiotic resistance.

Health insurance providers continue their work in helping the public understand the importance of antibiotics, and how to take them appropriately. Several AHIP members, including Cigna, Highmark Health, and Provide Health Plan, embrace the Choosing Wisely initiatives that discourage the use of antibiotics when clinically inappropriate and also educate providers about best practices. Showing progress in antibiotic stewardship, one-fifth of survey respondents said they or a family member had asked for an antibiotic but the provider declined.

Insurance providers are committed to ensuring the correct use of antibiotics and slowing the growth of bacteria that develop resistance to medications, including:

These initiatives, in addition to coordinated efforts with state, federal, and global stakeholders, can help protect patients and should be expanded in both the short and long term.