As a global society, we are facing a serious crisis with antibiotic resistance. Decades of misuse and overprescription of even the most commonplace, frontline antibiotics have caught up with us and the short- and long-term implications of this problem are alarming:
- Rivers around the world are polluted with antibiotics.
- 2.8 million people in the U.S. suffer from drug-resistant infections annually, leading to more than 35,000 deaths.
- Complications from drug-resistant infections will cost the world up to $100 trillion by 2050.
As dangerous infections continue to make headlines, it’s clear that we can no longer fall back on antibiotics as a catchall treatment or preventative for common infections. As a class of drugs, antibiotics have long been taken for granted. But now medical professionals and researchers are being forced to rethink how we diagnose patients, prescribe treatments and market pharmaceutical products.
The good news? Thought leaders representing all corners of science, patient advocacy and health care are already offering proactive solutions and putting them into action:
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that the number of hospitals complying with its antibiotic stewardship program has doubled since 2014.
- More time and money is being spent on researching new antibiotics.
- Nonprofit entities are getting involved in the development of novel treatments for drug-resistant strains of infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis and malaria, that are often overlooked in commercial sector.
These steps and many more are among a growing list of promising efforts in the fight against superbugs. But one crucial piece that many have overlooked is the need for improved rapid diagnostics and data-sharing capabilities to lower the risk of antibiotic resistance in the first place.
Reliable Diagnostics: The Fast Lane to Treatment
Understanding whether or not a patient already has a drug-resistant infection prior to antibiotic prescription is key to determining the best course of treatment. Thanks to advancements in diagnostics and informatics technologies, bacterial genetic tests are now capable of delivering results from urine, blood and respiratory samples in hours rather than days. These tests, when used in conjunction with informatics, are able to accurately detect the presence of antibiotic-resistant genes in pathogens and predict resistance to specific antibiotics.
By drastically cutting down time to diagnosis and treatment, these precision medicine solutions seek to address one of the biggest challenges in health care today: overprescription and misuse of antibiotics. Even with more robust stewardship programs in place, the CDC recently reported that at least 30 percent of antibiotic prescriptions in the U.S. are unnecessary. It’s imperative that medical professionals have a complete and reliable understanding of a patient’s condition before taking any treatment action.
When it comes to a wide variety of common infections, ranging from urinary tract infections to upper respiratory ones, this means breaking the habit of using frontline antibiotics as a catchall solution. Instead rapid diagnostics encourage caregivers and doctors to wait for results that pinpoint the exact infection strain and any co-infections and, most importantly, flag the presence of drug-resistant pathogens before they are able to colonize, develop new resistance or trigger an outbreak event.
Is This Infection Drug-Resistant? Check the Cloud
For biotechnology and informatics companies working on the frontlines of infection control and antibiotic stewardship, reliable and rapid diagnostics are merely the tip of the iceberg. We must also harness the power of cloud-based software to create unified, data-driven solutions to address antibiotic resistance. These databases are built using pathogen and antibiotic-resistant gene information from rapid diagnostic tests collected at hospitals, clinics and facilities around the world on an ongoing basis.
At facilities where this software is being introduced, individual patient samples and test results can be analyzed against the vast array of previously collected records to identify similarities in infection strains or even spot potential drug-resistant genes. With a highly-accurate diagnosis in hand and access to treatment data and outcomes, clinicians can more confidently make treatment decisions in less time.
Further, as a cloud-based platform, this type of database has the potential to be accessed by multiple participating health care systems, addressing the records gap that often occurs when facilities lack the digital infrastructure required to share patient and community health data.
A study in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association reported that only 63 percent of hospitals routinely exchange patient data with other facilities with whom they share the highest volume of patients. It can be hard to find an individual patient’s complete medical history if that person moves between facilities. And it is nearly impossible for clinicians to collaborate on bigger-picture events, such as the spread of a drug-resistant-infection strain that could impact multiple facilities in a densely populated region. Cloud-based data platforms give health care professionals the tools needed to identify highly-infectious, antibiotic-resistant pathogens in individual patients in real time and to improve infection-control practices to guard against future outbreaks and preserve antibiotics.
Bring Diagnostics and Data Sharing to the Forefront
Diagnostic and data-sharing solutions are already actively being tested in research settings with the goal of making them standard offerings in hospitals around the world. Like any new and innovative technology that hits the market, health care data-sharing and surveillance systems also need to undergo extensive piloting before widespread adoption can occur. Companies at the forefront of the technology and genomics industries, however, are already shaking things up with pilot programs supported by major hospital systems and even state governments.
In the fight against antibiotic-resistant superbugs, clinicians and decision makers have a responsibility to adhere to best practices, follow stewardship and infection-control practices more strictly and seek out tools that will help to reduce widespread patient suffering and drug misuse. At the same time, these leaders cannot ignore novel solutions, such as diagnostics and precision-medicine platforms, that can step in to help patients and entire facilities improve treatment outcomes in scenarios where traditional antibiotic solutions are failing us.