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Antibiotics May Be Overused in Illinois Nursing Homes

As Americans age, we use a larger and larger portion of the overall healthcare services available and provided every year. In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently concluded that 49 percent of all health care costs are used by people aged 65 and older. Further, some of the people with the highest overall demands on the healthcare system also are aged 65 and older, an important fact as the Americans with the top five percent of healthcare needs utilize 50 percent of all healthcare provided in this country.

Now, new information is being released that sheds light on one segment of the healthcare provided to citizens who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, and it may not all be positive.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that up to 70 percent of all nursing home residents receive at least one course of antibiotics in any given year, but it appears that up to 75 percent of those prescriptions are given incorrectly. Common errors include providing antibiotics when none are needed, providing the wrong antibiotics, giving the wrong dosage, or providing the drug at an inappropriate time.

The issues behind the over-prescription and use of antibiotics are significant and can be complex in some settings. Often, the doctors that treat nursing home patients are over worked and scheduled too densely, preventing them from properly evaluating patients and determining what the real issue is. Further, many nursing home physicians experience frequent turnover which can lead to little rapport between those doctors and the residents of the home.

The current use of antibiotics is not always well understood by those outside of the medical profession. In fact, over prescribing antibiotics may even sound like a good thing to the family members of nursing home residents, but this practice can be devastating in time. When they are not needed, antibiotics can negatively affect a patient by eliminating the natural, healthy bacteria present in that patient’s body, particularly in her digestive track. This cleansing can cause a host of infections to occur as the loss of healthy bacteria can lead to the overgrowth of unhealthy germs. Recently, c. difficile infections, commonly called “c. diff,” have been emerging in areas with medical settings and can follow antibiotic use. Nursing homes are places where c. diff can thrive and can cause residents to become violently ill, potentially claiming their lives.

The use of antibiotics without medical need can pose other problems. Often, a nursing home patient has an underlying issue that needs medical attention. If a physician fails to properly identify the issue and provide appropriate treatment, the issue may not resolve. If a doctor is rushed or fails to examine a nursing home patient, that doctor may be prone to write a prescription for an infection simply under the assumption that one is present. If an infection is not the issue, the real problem will remain unexplained and a nursing home patient will continue to suffer, possibly leading to permanent injuries.

Finally, overuse of antibiotics creates antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria which will pose a threat to everyone. Yet those with compromised immune systems, the very young, and the very old are at the greatest risk of harm from resistant strains of bacteria. A resistant strain of bacteria can spread from one patient to another with ease in a nursing home and its failure to respond to traditional medications can make treating the infection difficult, if not impossible. The creation of antibiotic-resistant infections places the lives and well-being of all nursing home residents at risk.

Knowing whether medication was properly or improperly administered can be very difficult for the family members of nursing home residents to understand, and often it is easier to speak with someone who is experienced in these matters. If you suspect nursing home abuse or neglect on the part of someone you love, consider contacting a personal injury attorney in Illinois who can help you understand whether your family has a valid claim.

If you have questions and would like to speak with someone, know that Abels & Annes, P.C. has a licensed lawyer standing by 24 hours a day, seven days a week to take your call and to offer you a no-cost, no-obligation case consultation. Everything discussed will be kept confidential so please feel free to call us now toll free at (855) 529-2442 or locally at (312) 924-7575.

Prior Blog Entry:

Greater Risk of Abuse against Alzheimer’s, Dementia Patients in Nursing Homes, Illinois Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog, published October 5, 2015.


New Push to Stop Overuse of Antibiotics in Nursing Homes, by Betsy McKay, The Wall Street Journal, published October 12, 2015.

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