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Pharmacists can help health professionals and patients understand when and when not to use antibiotics.

Pharmacists play an important role in  helping fight antibiotic resistance. 

Pharmacists generally lead hospital antimicrobial stewardship programs. They help to ensure other health professionals know about and follow the correct guidelines on how to prescribe and use antibiotics.

In community settings, pharmacists can help patients understand when and when not to use antibiotics. Pharmacists can help explain how to use an antibiotic. When a doctor has not prescribed an antibiotic, pharmacists can reassure consumers and address their concerns. They can also help patients choose other treatments to help their symptoms.

Pharmacists also give advice on the best use of antimicrobials in aged care facilities.

The PBS website has information for pharmacists about dispensing substitutable medicines in place of prescribed medicines that are in short supply.

What you can do

  1. Consider any safe alternatives to an immediate antibiotic prescription
  2. Prescribe in accordance with therapeutic guidelines, and where possible use diagnostics to inform treatment decisions
  3. Talk to your patients about the importance of appropriate antibiotic use and the dangers of antibiotic resistance
  4. Give your patients advice on how to manage symptoms without antibiotics
  5. Apply best practice infection prevention and control
  6. Talk to your patients about how to prevent infections and their spread (e.g. vaccination, good hygiene and hand washing)

Hospital pharmacists can: 

  • provide expert advice to health professionals about antibiotic choice, dose, duration and dose adjustment
  • advise on medicine interactions and help limit adverse effects, to ensure medicines are used safely and responsibly
  • get involved in antimicrobial stewardship programs.

Community pharmacists can:

  • advise patients on treatment with or without antibiotics
  • ensure antibiotic creams, lotions and gels that are available in pharmacies are given to patients correctly 
  • tell patients to return unused and expired antibiotics to the pharmacy for safe disposal through the National Return and Disposal of Unwanted Medicines program
  • properly destroy unused and expired antibiotics to reduce the chance of them entering the environment 
  • ensure health professionals prescribe antibiotics correctly for people living in aged care homes
  • tell people how they can take steps to prevent infections and reduce their spread if they occur
  • use ways that are proven to help people to have a healthy immune system, such as healthy lifestyle advice 
  • encourage vaccination. 

Resources are available to help you to talk to patients about when antibiotics are needed.

Key issues

The main cause of antibiotic resistance is antibiotic use. The more we use antibiotics, the more resistance will develop and spread. We need to ensure we use antibiotics only for the right reasons and in the right way.

  • Examples of inappropriate use include:
    • prescribing antibiotics when they are not necessary
    • prescribing the wrong type of antibiotic (e.g. the spectrum is too broad)
    • prescribing for the wrong duration, dose or frequency of treatment.
  • Antimicrobial use in Australian hospitals peaked in 2010 but has decreased gradually since then.
  • The use of antibiotics for protection against infection after surgery is not very effective. Antibiotics are often used for longer than necessary.
  • Most antibiotic use occurs at home. In 2015, around 30.5 million prescriptions for antimicrobials were dispensed under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and Repatriation PBS.
  • In 2015, many antibiotics were not prescribed according to guidelines. For example:
    • A large number of patients with acute respiratory infections were prescribed an antibiotic. These conditions include undifferentiated respiratory infections, acute tonsillitis, acute sinusitis, acute otitis media or acute bronchitis. Guidelines say that antibiotics should not be a normal treatment for these conditions.
    • A large number of patients who reported having colds or other non-specific acute respiratory infections were prescribed an antibiotic.
    • A large number of antibiotics prescribed were not consistent with the recommended Australian guidelines.
  • Antimicrobial stewardship programs in hospitals are helping to decrease overall and inappropriate antimicrobial use.
  • Pharmacists play an important role in working with patients to fight antibiotic resistance.
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