Antibiotic Use and Presumptive Pathogens in the Veterans Affairs Healthcare System

Clin Infect Dis. 2022 Jan 7;74(1):105-112. doi: 10.1093/cid/ciab170.


Background: Empirical antibiotic use is common in the hospital. Here, we characterize patterns of antibiotic use, infectious diagnoses, and microbiological laboratory results among hospitalized patients and aim to quantify the proportion of antibiotic use that is potentially attributable to specific bacterial pathogens.

Methods: We conducted an observational study using electronic health records from acute care facilities in the US Veterans Affairs Healthcare System. From October 2017 to September 2018, 482 381 hospitalizations for 332 657 unique patients that met all criteria were included. At least 1 antibiotic was administered at 202 037 (41.9%) of included hospital stays. We measured frequency of antibiotic use, microbiological specimen collection, and bacterial isolation by diagnosis category and antibiotic group. A tiered system based on specimen collection sites and diagnoses was used to attribute antibiotic use to presumptive causative organisms.

Results: Specimens were collected at 130 012 (64.4%) hospitalizations with any antibiotic use, and at least 1 bacterial organism was isolated at 35.1% of these stays. Frequency of bacterial isolation varied widely by diagnosis category and antibiotic group. Under increasingly lenient criteria, 10.2%-31.4% of 974 733 antibiotic days of therapy could be linked to a potential bacterial pathogen.

Conclusions: Overall, the vast majority of antibiotic use could be linked to either an infectious diagnosis or microbiological specimen. Nearly one-half of antibiotic use occurred when there was a specimen collected but no bacterial organism identified, underscoring the need for rapid and improved diagnostics to optimize antibiotic use.

Keywords: Veterans Affairs; antibiotic stewardship; antibiotics; hospitalization; microbiology.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Communicable Diseases* / drug therapy
  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Hospitals
  • Humans
  • Veterans*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents