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Elderly Patients are Struggling With Too Many Medications and Taking Them As Prescribed

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New research published by Pharmacy Voice shows that 79 percent of doctors are unsure whether their elderly patients – who are taking more than 4 medications – are sticking to the prescribed medication schedule 6 months after their consultation.

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November 4, 2015 | by Sarah Massey, M.Sc.

Doctors in the UK have voiced concerns that over half of all patients over 75 years of age are taking too many medications simultaneously, and that they are not always taking the medicines as prescribed. New research published by Pharmacy Voice shows that 79 percent of doctors are unsure whether their elderly patients – who are taking more than 4 medications – are sticking to the prescribed medication schedule 6 months after their consultation.

The research also showed that doctors believe that 50.3 percent of their older patients could benefit from taking fewer prescription drugs. The study sheds light on the need to improve patient care and adherence to a treatment schedule, to improve quality of life for patients and reduce costs for the healthcare system.

According to recent statistics, up to 40 percent of the 5.1 million people over 75 in the UK are taking more than four prescriptions simultaneously. Projections estimate that this number could increase to 6.1 million people by the year 2020, as the population ages.

Prescriptions for individuals over 75 are thought to account for at a minimum of 45 percent of the National Health Services’ (NHS) £8.9 billion spent annually on prescription drugs. The report suggests that medicine reviews every six months for patients over 75 could reduce the number of elderly patients admitted to hospital, as well as cut down on pharmaceutical waste – a practice thought to cost the NHS £300 million per year.



Ninety-two percent of doctors who responded to the Pharmacy Voice survey, said they would like to work more closely with dedicated pharmacy teams to ensure patients are taking their prescribed medications correctly. According to Michael Dixon, chair of the NHS Alliance and a doctor in Devon, England, “Community pharmacy teams are well placed to undertake regular medicines use reviews, but the exact delivery must be worked through carefully with general practice colleagues to make sure our older patients aren’t sent round the houses, and are advised by the right health professional, at the right time, and in the right place.”

The study also recommends improved communication between doctors and pharmacies, and an increase in patient record sharing between the two parties. Pharmacy Voice also comments on the British government’s plan to allow read-only access of all patient records to community pharmacies by 2017, by saying that it should be “rapidly followed by secure access to update records with written information, with patient consent.”

Over 96 percent of the country’s population have electronic health records – known as Summary Care Records (SCR) – which prove up-to-date medical information that can be accessed around the clock. Currently, a patient’s SCR can only be accessed by healthcare professionals, with the patient’s consent.

Despite concerns over data privacy and security, the plan to share SCRs with pharmacists could help patients better manage their medications. In a pilot study, researchers found that in 92 percent of cases where a patient’s SCR was accessed by a pharmacist, the patient’s needs were met and they did not require a referral to another member of the NHS. Further, in 18 percent of cases, concerns over medication errors were avoided.

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Keywords:  Aging Population, NHS, Medication


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