Interventions Reduced Elderly Patient Exposure to Dangerous Drugs: Study

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By: Martha Garcia | Published: January 25th, 2013

According to the findings of a new study, it appears that educating doctors about the risks associated with certain drugs does reduce the number of prescriptions issued for potentially inappropriate medications among elderly patients.  

The research was conducted by Jefferson School of Population Health and Parma Local Health Authority in Italy, evaluating data on approximately 100,000 patients who were 65 years of age and older.

The proof of concept study was published this month in the journal Drugs and Aging, finding that there was a 9.8% drop of the prescribing rate of potentially inappropriate medications (PIMs).

The study, conducted over three years beginning in the fall of 2009, was based in Parma, because Italy offers universal health coverage, a uniform system easier for researchers to evaluate than the United States.

More than 300 general practitioners in the Local Health Authority in Parma, Italy were given a list of potentially inappropriate medications for elderly, to establish a baseline level at which they were being prescribed. A control group in a nearby community was also studied. The incidence which the physicians continued to prescribe the medications was later tested to determine the results.

Researchers focused on conducting educational sessions with the general practitioners and changing the behavior of the doctors, instead of educating the patients. This approach resulted in a drop of 31.4% in PIMs in Parma. Researchers attribute the reduction to the study’s interventions. As a result, more than 600 people avoided exposure to these drugs.

Study co-authors Vittorio Maio, PharmD, MS, MSPH, Scott Keith, PhD, and Stefano Del Canale, MD, PhD, said the study was so successful, participants adopted the practices permanently and believe adopting practices such as this could result in hundreds of millions of dollars saved annually, while avoiding thousands of health problems among the elderly.

“The public doesn’t realize how many elderly patients are exposed every day to potentially dangerous medications that can severely affect their health,” said co-author Vittorio Maio. “Changing physician behavior is very difficult, but we showed it can be done.”

The list of potentially inappropriate medications includes many common medications such as ibuprofen, aspirin, amitriptyline and digoxin. Patients over the age of 65 often use multiple medications and nearly 30 percent of all medications prescribed in the United States are given to elderly patients.

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