Vancomycin and Home Health Care

Thomas G. Fraser; Valentina Stosor; Qiong Wang; Anne Allen; Teresa R. Zembower


Emerging Infectious Diseases. 2005;11(10) 

In This Article


This study examined a large group of patients referred for home infusions of vancomycin over a 5-year period and applied established guidelines to determine if outpatient use conformed to a widely accepted benchmark. A total of 39.2% of the prescriptions were given outside guidelines. Several authors have applied these HICPAC guidelines to evaluate inpatient use of vancomycin and found the incidence of outside guidelines use to range from 36% to 79%.[11,12,18,19] Our study, however, is the first to critically evaluate the appropriateness of vancomycin in the outpatient setting.

The most common reason for outside guidelines use of vancomycin was continuation of empiric therapy in patients without a culture-defining indication. Singer et al. have found similar Results in hospitalized patients.[12] In contrast, other studies found that the most common reasons for inappropriate inpatient prescriptions for vancomycin were surgical prophylaxis and failure to modify prescriptions for antimicrobial drugs based on culture Results.[19,20]

We found that the other reasons for vancomycin use outside guidelines were dosing convenience, prolonged use after surgical procedures, and treatment of CoNS isolated from a single blood culture. Use for dosing convenience is likely underestimated (15.5%) because of the conservative definition used in this retrospective analysis. The incidence of vancomycin use for prolonged periods after implantation of devices and for the treatment of CoNS from a single blood culture was less than the incidence among inpatients.[12,19] This incidence may reflect that continuing vancomycin for these indications is more convenient in the inpatient setting and that physicians are likely to reevaluate the true need for outpatient vancomycin in these circumstances.

Examined data showing the prescribing patterns of physicians demonstrate that patients discharged from a medical service are more likely to receive vancomycin appropriately. Of surgical subspecialists, orthopedic and neurosurgeons were more likely to prescribe vancomycin outside guidelines. These prescribing differences are consistent with the findings of inpatient vancomycin use evaluations.[21–24] Although patients with a history of malignancy received vancomycin according to HICPAC guidelines, hematology/oncology was the only medical service not associated with appropriate use. These Results suggest that the vancomycin-prescribing practices of certain subspecialists offer the opportunity for education regarding the existence of and rationale for such guidelines and targeted intervention to reduce unnecessary outpatient vancomycin usage.[25] Only 6 patients with end-stage renal disease received vancomycin through homecare. Intuitively, one might expect more vancomycin use in this patient population; however, this finding probably reflects that these patients receive vancomycin during hemodialysis and, thus, do not require referral to home health. In contrast to other studies, consultation by infectious diseases physicians did not impact compliance.[26–28] This finding warrants further examination to determine if infectious diseases physicians recommend vancomycin for use outside of HICPAC guidelines or if their recommendations are disregarded.

If a microbiologic evaluation was attempted, vancomycin use was more likely to follow guidelines. Obtaining wound cultures was also associated with appropriate use. A thorough microbiologic evaluation aids in clinical decision making. When clinicians have culture and susceptibility Results, they are more likely to use vancomycin appropriately, particularly for patients with skin and soft tissue infections.

Patients >65 years of age were more likely to receive vancomycin per guidelines. The reasons for this are unclear but were not impacted by insurance status. This finding probably reflects that patients referred for intravenous antimicrobial drugs through homecare either have insurance that will reimburse for the service or have the ability to pay for the drugs.

This study had several limitations because of its retrospective nature. A substantial number of patients were classified in the compliant group on the basis of a reported allergy to β-lactam drugs. Because we were unable to determine the nature of reported allergies to penicillin, all allergies were assumed to be serious in nature. Thus, this study overestimates appropriate vancomycin use for this Purpose. Another limitation of this analysis is the inability to account for the impact of vancomycin courses patients may have received before this study. Finally, this study does not address the financial consideration that influenced the choice of antimicrobial drug. Other investigators have explored this issue and found that the costs of outpatient vancomycin therapy are substantial.[29] The patients in this study were preselected to the extent that they were able to receive vancomycin at home.

HICPAC guidelines were developed to promote judicious use of vancomycin in an attempt to curtail the spread of vancomycin-resistant enterococci and forestall the development of S. aureus with reduced susceptibility to glycopeptides. Although these guidelines were initially applied to the inpatient setting, the OPAT guidelines have recommended that they also apply to outpatients receiving vancomycin. Apart from vancomycin, however, the OPAT guidelines lack information regarding choices of antimicrobial drugs for outpatients. In addition, they do not clearly prioritize conscientious use of antimicrobial drugs above other considerations, such as cost and dosing convenience, when choosing outpatient therapy. These issues need to be addressed as the emergence and spread of antimicrobial-resistant gram-positive pathogens in the community continue to increase.

One in 1,000 patients in the United States is estimated to receive outpatient infusion of antimicrobial drugs each year.[15] The trend toward increased inpatient acuity and shorter hospital stay will undoubtedly increase this practice. Our study on first-time referrals from 1 tertiary care hospital to its homecare agency represents only a subset of vancomycin use in the community. The propensity for readmissions and repeated referrals of these chronically ill patients must be considered when analyzing the impact of outpatient vancomycin use. In addition, vancomycin administered by other homecare agencies, extended care facilities, outpatient infusion centers, and outpatient dialysis centers all contribute to its burgeoning use outside the hospital. Our study indicates that further investigations into the consequences of this practice on individual persons and the community are warranted. Do the favorable pharmacokinetics and economic attributes of vancomycin that make it attractive for home infusion outweigh the potential consequences of unnecessarily broad-spectrum gram-positive coverage? Further studies are needed to address these issues if we are to understand the dynamics of resistant pathogens in the community and the overall emergence and spread of antimicrobial resistance.


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