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Health & Medicine for Senior Citizens

Senior Citizens in Home Health Care at High Risk of Dangerous Medications

40% of seniors cared for by home health agency are taking a prescription that is potentially unsafe or ineffective; Affordable Care Act offers hope

Dec. 2, 2011 Senior citizens receiving home health care may be in danger of taking a drug that is unsafe or ineffective for older people, says a new study that found nearly 40 percent of seniors receiving medical care from a home health agency are taking at least one prescription medication that is considered potentially inappropriate for their age.


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The study's researchers, led by Dr. Yuhua Bao, assistant professor of public health at Weill Cornell Medical College, found that home health care patients aged 65 and over are prescribed Potentially Inappropriate Medications, or PIMs, at rates three times higher than patients who visit a medical office.

The researchers' data, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, show that home health care patients are taking 11 medications on average, and that the concurrent use of multiple medications is a strong indicator of the presence of PIMs.

"Elderly patients receiving home health care are usually prescribed medications by a variety of physicians, and it's a great challenge for home health care nurses to deal with prescriptions from many sources," says Dr. Bao.

Still, she sees the home health care model offering potential for improving this situation.

"Having a medical professional enter an elderly patient's home is an opportunity to do a proper medication review and reconciliation," Dr. Bao explains.

The study used data from the National Home and Hospice Care Survey, conducted in 2007 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which is the most recent nationally representative epidemiological survey of home health patients.

The 2002 Beers Criteria, an expert-panel-generated list that itemizes 77 medications or groups of medications considered inappropriate for elderly people, was the basis for the PIMs chosen.

In a review of data of 3,124 home health patients 65 years of age or older, the researchers found 38 percent were taking at least one PIM. Senior patients taking 15 or more medications were five to six times as likely to be prescribed PIMs as patients taking seven or fewer medications. Of those seniors taking at least one PIM, 21 percent were taking 15 or more medications.

According to Dr. Bao, the study, if anything, underestimates the prevalence of PIMs taken by home health patients: The researchers were not able to look at potentially problematic drug-to-drug interactions or drug-and-disease interactions because data were not available.

There is no one reason why PIMs are prevalent in home health care settings, the study says.

"Anecdotal evidence shows that many physicians are not aware of what is on the PIM list," says Dr. Bao.

"In our fragmented health care system, we generally don't have an electronic reference for a patient that lists all medications from different physicians, and there isn't a readily available means for professionals to share essential information. Enhanced physician communication with home health care nurses may help to address the problem, as well as better communication among physicians."

Dr. Bao sees incentives for improvement in communication and care coordination in the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed by the U.S. Congress in 2010.

"The current payment system doesn't provide incentives to optimize coordination of care," says Dr. Bao.

"But when providers in different settings as a group are held responsible for outcomes and costs of care through, for example, an accountable care organization - a concept promoted in the Affordable Care Act - this could create an impetus to break the communication barriers that currently exist."

Co-authors of the study include Huibo Shao, Tara F. Bishop, Bruce R. Schackman and Martha L. Bruce -- all from Weill Cornell Medical College.

The study was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.

Weill Cornell Medical College

Weill Cornell Medical College is Cornell University's medical school located in New York City. Weill Cornell Medical College is affiliated with NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, where its faculty provides comprehensive patient care at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. The Medical College is also affiliated with the Methodist Hospital in Houston. For more information, visit weill.cornell.edu.

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