Pharmacy’s Role in the Fight Against Antibiotic Resistance

September 2015, Vol 3, No 9 - The First Word
Donald J. Dietz, RPh, MS

As healthcare practitioners, pharmacists, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners working in retail clinics, we need to continually review information available about new products, treatment guidelines, and product usage and availability. Beyond these clinical, pharmacologic, and supply components, we also need to keep up-to-date with articles trending in the lay press and on the Internet. The cover story in the August 2015 issue of Consumer Reports, “The Rise of Superbugs,” focuses on antibiotic resistance, and what can be done before it is too late.1 It is a good read, and will help healthcare practitioners gain a better perspective on consumer awareness of antibiotic resistance. It is also timely because our government announced a 5-year plan to stem antibiotic resistance this past March.2

The article describes how superbugs spread throughout the community, including in hospitals, in physicians’ offices, and on farms via food, water, and environmental runoff.1 The history of antibiotic overuse, and guidance for consumers on when to say no to an antibiotic, are also explained. Within the walls of the retail pharmacy, there are additional steps that we can take to support antimicrobial stewardship.

Maintaining Proper Hygiene

The simple and most basic step is an increased focus on healthy hygiene practices that limit the spread of infections. Proper handwashing procedures inside the pharmacy—and educating employees and consumers on the importance of this simple step—cannot be overestimated. See the tips for suggested proper handwashing techniques.3 A good way to get the message out is by spreading knowledge to colleagues and coworkers. Placement of antimicrobial hand sanitizers in large pump bottles at the pharmacy counter may help communicate that message—and possibly increase sales of the product for at-home use.


Curbing Antibiotic Resistance

Pharmacists and retail clinicians play a key role in promoting the correct use of antibiotics among physicians and patients. A good first step is to increase knowledge about common community illnesses that may not be bacterial, but rather are viral in nature, and which do not require antibiotics. There are opportunities here for pharmacists and retail clinicians to emphasize the value of over-the-counter products for symptom management, and educate patients about when they should visit their physician or clinic if symptoms change or do not improve. When antibiotics are needed, pharmacists should—if there is an opportunity—work with prescribers to limit the use of broad-spectrum antibiotics. Advise patients to always take the full course of antibiotics, and never share their medications. It is also good to emphasize the importance of immunizations in reducing flu and pneumonia occurrence.

Pharmacists’ collaboration with other healthcare practitioners is key to curbing antibiotic resistance. No individual group of healthcare providers can solve this issue on their own; it is best addressed when all healthcare practitioners are working together.

Recommending Reliable Resources

Pharmacists can help ensure that patients access valid, reliable information via the Internet. Some major pharmacy chains even provide access to reliable, useful information on the appropriate use of antibiotics on their own websites. Other trustworthy websites that can be shared comfortably are those associated with governments or educational institutions (ie, with URLs ending in .gov or .edu, respectively). These resources have most likely been reviewed by multiple experts—perhaps more so than a standard website ending in .com or .org. Limit reliance on websites based upon lay consumer contributions, and suggest validated resources, such as the websites for Mayo Clinic, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, or National Institutes of Health, all of which have excellent information for patients and practitioners. Websites and journals with medical information stating they are peer-reviewed is another valuable source of information.

For pharmacists who seek to improve their own knowledge on antibiotic resistance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a free continuing education program on antibiotic resistance that is valid until December 20, 2016.4

Inside Patient Care welcomes your input regarding the role of pharmacists and retail clinicians in antibiotic resistance.


  1. The rise of superbugs. Consumer Reports. 2015 August 15;20-26.
  2. The White House; Office of the Press Secretary. Fact sheet: Obama administration releases national action plan to combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria. www.white ­administration-releases-national-action-plan-combat-ant. Published March 27, 2015. Accessed August 27, 2015.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When & how to wash your hands. Updated July 22, 2015. Accessed August 28, 2015.
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Weighing in on antibiotic resistance: community pharmacists tip the scale. Accessed September 15, 2015.
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Last modified: September 25, 2015
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