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SEOUL — The 18th Medical Command will continue to refer patients to off-base South Korean hospitals that have been identified as facilities that over-prescribe antibiotics, according to U.S. officials.

U.S. officials say they “rarely” send patients to off-base hospitals for conditions that would possibly require antibiotics.

The Seoul Administration Court, acting on a civic group’s complaint, ordered the Ministry of Health and Welfare in January to release names of facilities that frequently prescribe antibiotics, according to Korean news reports. The list, compiled from surveys about antibiotic usage from 2001 to 2004, was released late last week and ranked hospitals and clinics across South Korea on the percentage of patients prescribed the medication.

Dongui Medical Center in Busan, Kwangu Christian Hospital in Kwangju City, Youido St. Mary’s Hospital in Seoul and Hyosung Women’s Hospital in Daegu — all hospitals to which the U.S. military command refers patients for treatment as needed — fell in the ministry’s category of those that over-prescribe antibiotics.

“We are constantly vigilant to ensure our beneficiaries receive the highest quality of care — whether delivered on or off of [a] military installation,” Col. Brian D. Allgood, commander of the 18th MEDCOM, stated in a written response to a Stars and Stripes query.

Medical officials monitor “care delivered and clinical progress on inpatients” referred to the South Korean hospitals, according to Allgood, who also serves as U.S. Forces Korea and 8th Army Surgeon and the 121st General Hospital commander.

“We will continue to address any concerns or questions regarding care delivered as they arise,” Allgood stated. “This practice will not change based on this report.”

Off-base antibiotic usage isn’t a big issue with the U.S. base community, according to 18th MEDCOM spokesman 1st Lt. Michael Schardinger Jr.

“Our 18th MEDCOM providers rarely refer patients off base [for something] that would require the prescription of antibiotics,” Schardinger stated via e-mail. “No concerns have been reported … regarding the over-usage of antibiotics.”

Antibiotics have saved “countless lives and blunted serious complications of many feared diseases and infections,” since first being widely used during the World War II-era, according to a National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases fact sheet. But decades of widespread usage is believed to have spurred evolutionary changes in bacteria, according to the fact sheet, causing a problem of antibiotic resistance.

The 18th MEDCOM has written agreements, called memorandums of understanding, with 19 South Korean hospitals that provide specialized care in areas such as obstetrics, urology, immunology and cardiology, medical officials have said.

The MOUs assist those entering the foreign health-care system by ensuring the hospitals have English-speaking doctors, use FDA-approved drugs and procedures and provide Western- style services, such as meals.

The practice has saved the military millions of dollars since 1999, officials have said, because patients could receive local care instead of being sent to military facilities in other countries or back in the United States.

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