COVID-19 Could Encourage Another Threat to Public Health

The COVID Pandemic Could Encourage Another Threat to Public Health—How Can We Respond?

For decades, public health agencies have sounded the alarm about the potential for a widespread outbreak of infectious disease. The current COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us how easily disease can spread—and how little it takes to overwhelm our health care system.

To limit patients’ exposure to COVID-19, the health care delivery system has rapidly expanded the use of telehealth. Although this is a safe solution to one aspect of the current pandemic, telehealth can be associated with increased rates of antibiotic prescribing and may add fuel to another public health crisis: antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotics are powerful tools to treat infections caused by bacteria. These medications can be life-saving interventions, but when they are used inappropriately—for example, to treat conditions such as the common cold or flu, which are caused by viruses—they can encourage growth of bacteria that are resistant to available medications.

Each year, 2.8 million Americans are infected and over 35,000 die due to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Antibiotic-resistant infections exist in every community; maybe one has affected you or someone you know. NCQA is committed to providing tools to help stakeholders engage in appropriate antibiotic use and avoid contributing to the growth of antibiotic resistance.

One tool is the Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set (HEDIS®) which evaluates delivery of care for over 191 million Americans. HEDIS monitors national trends in quality. Three HEDIS measures evaluate appropriate outpatient antibiotic use, including prescriptions made through telehealth:

  • Appropriate Testing for Pharyngitis.
  • Appropriate Treatment for Upper Respiratory Infection.
  • Avoidance of Antibiotic Treatment for Acute Bronchitis/Bronchiolitis.

Stakeholders throughout the delivery system can use these measures to monitor for inappropriate antibiotic use and educate their community about antibiotic-resistant bacteria.