KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Drugs Seniors Use Most Often Cause 60K Hospitalizations Annually

News outlets are reporting on a new study that challenges conventional wisdom about seniors, their medicines and hospitalizations.

USA Today/HealthDay: Four Common Meds Send Thousands Of Seniors To Hospital
An estimated 100,000 older Americans are hospitalized for adverse drug reactions yearly, and most of those emergencies stem from four common medications, a new study finds. The four types of medication -- two for diabetes and two blood-thinning agents -- account for two-thirds of those drug-related emergency hospitalizations. "Of the thousands of medications available to older patients, a small group of blood thinners and diabetes medications caused a high proportion of emergency hospitalizations for adverse drug events among elderly Americans," said lead study author Dr. Daniel Budnitz, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's medication safety program (Goodwin, 11/25).

The New York Times: Four Drugs Cause Most Hospitalizations in Older Adults 
All these drugs are commonly prescribed to older adults, and they can be hard to use correctly. ... Some require blood testing to adjust their doses, and a small dose can have a powerful effect. Blood sugar can be notoriously hard to control in people with diabetes, for example, and taking a slightly larger dose of insulin than needed can send a person into shock (O'Connor, 11/23).

Medscape: 4 Drugs Cause Most Adverse-Event Hospital Stays for Seniors
In contrast, medications red-flagged as high risk or inappropriate by health authorities explained only 1.2% and 6.6%, respectively, of such hospital admissions. ... Hospitalizations arising from [adverse drug events] promise to increase "as Americans live longer, have greater numbers of chronic conditions, and take more medications," the authors note. Lowering the number of such hospitalizations, they write, is a major priority of a federal initiative called Partnership for Patients, which was launched in April. (Lowes, 11/23). 

The Wall Street Journal: Common Drugs the Culprit in Most ER Visits by Seniors, Study Finds
The findings suggest that hundreds of millions of dollars could be saved annually by improving the education and drug management of people with certain chronic conditions. The study comes as the government is pushing a major initiative to reduce repeat hospitalizations by 20% by the end of 2013. ... "We need to focus on those areas where we can have the greatest potential to reduce hospitalizations and health care costs," said [Budnitz]. ... Drug-related hospitalizations are expected to grow as people live longer, chronic conditions spread to more of the population and seniors take more types of medications (Martin, 11/25).

WebMD: Most Drug-Related Hospitalizations Due to Handful of Drugs 
Patients or their caregivers can do a lot to minimize the risk of a bad event related to a medication, [Michael Cohen, president of the Institute for Safe Medication Practices]  and Budnitz say. ... Be sure the right drug name is on the label. Check that it is the strength prescribed for you. Report back to your doctor for blood tests when told to do so. ... Do not take other medicines without discussing them with your doctor (Doheny,11/23).

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