NEW YORK (Nov. 21, 2011) -- Older adults receiving home health care may be taking a drug that is unsafe or ineffective for someone their age. In fact, 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 to seniors, a new study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine has revealed.
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 shows 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. "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 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. The authors do not have conflicts of interest.
Weill Cornell Medical College
Weill Cornell Medical College, Cornell University's medical school located in New York City, is committed to excellence in research, teaching, patient care and the advancement of the art and science of medicine, locally, nationally and globally. Physicians and scientists of Weill Cornell Medical College are engaged in cutting-edge research from bench to bedside, aimed at unlocking mysteries of the human body in health and sickness and toward developing new treatments and prevention strategies. In its commitment to global health and education, Weill Cornell has a strong presence in places such as Qatar, Tanzania, Haiti, Brazil, Austria and Turkey. Through the historic Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, the Medical College is the first in the U.S. to offer its M.D. degree overseas. Weill Cornell is the birthplace of many medical advances -- including the development of the Pap test for cervical cancer, the synthesis of penicillin, the first successful embryo-biopsy pregnancy and birth in the U.S., the first clinical trial of gene therapy for Parkinson's disease, and most recently, the world's first successful use of deep brain stimulation to treat a minimally conscious brain-injured patient. 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.