A new prescribing protocol reduced antibiotic use by almost 20%, with an associated 40% reduction in antibiotic-related side effects. Researchers presented the results of their study in Barcelona, Spain at the 2013 European Respiratory Society (ERS) Annual Congress.

“The threat from growing resistance to antibiotics is increasing, which is in part attributable to inappropriately lengthy courses of antibiotics. Our study aimed to implement a simple system for preventing patients taking antibiotics for longer than they should,” said Matthew Lloyd, PhD, lead author from Scotland’s University of Dundee. “The results were promising and found that through prescribing automatic stop dates and working with our multidisciplinary colleagues, we can help prevent this problem and reduce patient harm.”

Investigators followed more than 500 patients with lower respiratory tract infections for a year. In the first six months, researchers monitored patients’ current antibiotic use; in the second six, patients receiving antibiotics followed the new prescribing strategy. Antibiotic side-effects were monitored the entire time.

The new protocol was two-part: automatic stop dates, based on the severity of an infection, were assigned to antibiotics with time limits on the prescriptions. Additionally, pharmacists ensured antibiotics were issued with stop dates clearly visible for patients.