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Report: One in Five Medicare Seniors Prescribed Risky Meds

Questionable scripts more common in southeastern states (Apr. 10)

More than 20% of seniors with Medicare Advantage plans received a prescription for a potentially harmful high-risk medication in 2009, according to public health researchers at Brown University. The questionable prescriptions were significantly more common in the southeastern U.S., as well as among women and among people living in relatively poor areas.

The demographic trends in the analysis, which was based on Medicare data from more than 6 million patients, suggest that differences in the rates of prescription of about 110 medications deemed risky for the elderly cannot be explained merely by the patients’ individual circumstances, said lead author Danya Qato, a pharmacist and doctoral candidate at Brown.

In the analysis, Qato and co-author Dr. Amal Trivedi found that 21.4% of the patients, or more than 1.3 million people, received at least one high-risk medication, for which there is often a safer substitute, and that 4.8% received at least two such medications.

Residents of the South Atlantic, East South Central, and West South Central regions of the country — an area stretching from Texas to South Carolina — had a 10% to 12% higher risk of receiving potentially harmful prescriptions compared with people in New England, who had the lowest chance, the analysis found.

In a separate demographic evaluation, women across the country had a 10% greater likelihood of receiving a high-risk prescription.

Generally, the lower the socioeconomic status of a patient’s region, the more likely they were to receive a high-risk medication. Residents of the poorest areas had a 2.7% higher risk compared with residents of the wealthiest areas.

The reasons why people in the South are at substantially higher risk than people in the rest of the country could be a combination of several factors, the authors said. These factors could include higher patient demand for the drugs; a different prescribing culture; a higher prevalence of chronic medical problems in the region; or inadequate medical training with regard to appropriate prescribing among elderly patients.

Trivedi said officials and health care providers should take the study as a cue to improve prescribing.

Source: Brown University; April 10, 2013.

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