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Oregon seniors might be at higher risk for prescription errors

A patient relies on his or her doctor to prescribe drugs that are appropriate. Any breach of that trust might constitute negligence on the part of a health care professional. Yet around 20 percent of prescriptions that primary care providers give to senior patients — those over the age of 65 — might be inappropriate, according to a recent study. That’s bad news for Oregon’s seniors, who are more likely than younger patients to be taking several drugs at once. With more drugs comes more exposure to potentially adverse drug interactions.

The study analyzed data from 19 previously conducted studies on prescription information for seniors. Researchers identified a medication as inappropriate under any of the following criteria: it had a higher risk of complication than a similarly effective drug; it was insufficient to treat the problem for which it is prescribed; or the dosage was inappropriate.

Researchers found that antidepressants and antihistamines were among the most commonly misprescribed medications. Unfortunately, some of those medications can have serious adverse effects when not taken correctly, especially in the senior population. Seniors might not respond to drugs in the same way as younger patients. For example, seniors might have poor kidney and liver function, which can affect drug metabolism.

In this study, researchers looked at reports taken from the general population. However, some fear that the 20 percent finding might be even higher in assisted living or nursing home populations, where residents are more likely to be on multiple medications. Several previous studies have estimated that 40 percent of prescriptions given to those in nursing homes might be inappropriate.

The authors of the study propose a technological solution: electronic health records that can track patients’ histories and current medications. Such technology might be able to send alerts if doctors are prescribing a medication that may adversely interact with other medication that the patient is currently on, or if the prescribed drug is more high risk than other comparable drugs.

Source: Scientific American, “1 in 5 Rx’s for Seniors Is Inappropriate,” Katherine Harmon, Aug. 22, 2012

• Our firm handles situations similar to the one discussed in this post. If you would like to learn more about our practice, please visit our Oregon Prescription Malpractice page.