Surveillance of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is essential for clinical decision-making and for public health authorities to monitor patterns in resistance and evaluate the effectiveness of interventions and control measures. Existing AMR surveillance is typically based on reports from hospital laboratories and public health laboratories, comprising reports of pathogen frequencies and resistance frequencies among each species detected. Here we propose an improved framework for AMR surveillance, in which the unit of surveillance is patients with specific conditions, rather than biological samples of a particular type. In this 'case-based' surveillance, denominators as well as numerators will be clearly defined with clinical relevance and more comparable at the local, national and international level. In locations with sufficient resources, individual-based data on patient characteristics and full antibiotic susceptibility profiles would provide high-quality evidence for monitoring resistant pathogens of clinical importance, clinical treatment of infections and public health responses to outbreaks of infections with resistant bacteria.