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Study: 2 in 10 prescriptions to seniors are inappropriate

Each year, countless people in Ohio are harmed by medication errors, and according to a new study published online this week, senior citizens may be particularly at risk. The study revealed that about 20 percent of the prescriptions primary care providers write for people over the age of 65 are inappropriate and could pose a health risk.

The study involved surveying data from 10 previous studies. Researchers considered a prescription to be “inappropriate” if it carried a higher risk of complication than a different drug with similar effects, was ineffective to treat the problem for which it is prescribed or was prescribed in the wrong dosage.

The study’s lead authors said that “there are still high overall rates of inappropriate medication prescription” even though prescriptions written by primary care physicians for elderly patients have been under scrutiny in recent years. The lead authors concluded that a continue push for more and improved electronic prescription tools are needed.

These tools can send automatic alerts if a dangerous combination of medications has been prescribed to a patient while allowing doctors to more easily track what medications patients have been prescribed in the past. The electronic tools also let doctors know if there might be a similar drug available that carries fewer risks.

According to the study, the most common medications to be inappropriately prescribed to senior citizens were:

Researchers warned that many of these drugs can threaten a person’s health when not taken properly. This is especially true among elderly patients, they said, who are often taking several medications at once and may have “disabilities like visual and cognitive decline” that can prevent them from noticing that the prescriptions are inappropriate.

Source:  Scientific America, “One in Five Rx’s for Seniors Is Inappropriate,” Katherine Harmon, Aug. 22, 2012