Telehealth helps advance antibiotic stewardship programs in rural health facilities

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A study published in Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology examined a pilot program at two rural Veterans Affairs medical centers that leveraged telehealth technology for caregivers to access infectious diseases-trained experts.

As part of the program, rural healthcare providers, including pharmacists, infection preventionists, staff nurses and clinicians, connected with an infectious diseases physician at a distant VA healthcare facility via hour-long weekly video meetings. These meetings formed videoconference antimicrobial stewardship team, or VAST, at the two VA facilities included in the study.

The study shows the VAST teams reviewed around three cases per week on average and implemented more than two-thirds of the recommendations developed during weekly meetings. The most common recommendation was to stop prescribing antibiotics, and the most common clinical conditions discussed were pneumonia/respiratory syndromes. The VAST teams reviewed cases from both the acute care and long-term units at the hospitals.

Additionally, researchers interviewed the VAST teams, who reported feeling more confident in making specific antibiotic prescribing choices as well as increased awareness of antibiotic stewardship principles as a result of the videoconference sessions.

"Telehealth can be a low-cost and effective way to provide facilities with the expertise needed to implement these initiatives — eliminating some of the barriers that have typically thwarted these efforts," said Robin Jump, MD, PhD, senior author of the study and a physician-scientist with the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center.

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