elderly care

Improving elder care through physician-pharmacist teamwork

A new study from UK researchers shows that when physicians and pharmacists work together more closely, care for elderly patients can be improved.

The findings, published in Alzheimer’s Research and Therapy, show the value of physician-pharmacist teams in providing more coordinated care for elderly patients, especially as it relates to prescription medications.

As people age, the number of medications they’re prescribed tends to increase, which makes both patient care and medication therapy more complicated. In the U.S., patients over 60 take an average of five medications, many of which are prescribed by different physicians. This increases the risk of inappropriate drug prescriptions and side effects, including cognitive impairment.

Ensuring medications are prescribed appropriately is especially important for patients living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Anticholinergic drugs – used to treat nausea, peptic ulcers, lung disease, dizziness and other conditions common in elderly patients – are often the culprits of inappropriate prescriptions.

Although they sometimes prove helpful, these medications have also been known to result in cognitive decline. Therefore, it is essential to find the right balance between risks and benefits for each individual patient.

Creating a medication therapy management team

In order to examine this further, Dr. Daniela Moga from the UK College of Pharmacy and Dr. Greg Jicha from the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging partnered to conduct an eight-week randomized trial with patients from Sanders-Brown.

Their aim was to investigate whether a targeted patient-centered, pharmacist-physician medication therapy management team intervention could reduce the inappropriate prescribing of anticholinergics. The research was the first step in evaluating whether intervention can improve cognitive function in patients.

Their findings showed promise. Compared to the control group, patients receiving the intervention showed a reduction in the number of prescribed anticholinergic drugs. In addition, patients appreciated the opportunity to participate in the study and recognized the importance of optimizing their medical treatment.

Expanding the research

Now with funding from the National Institutes of Health, Moga and Jicha will follow a larger group of patients for one year, and further evaluate the long-term effects of intervention by a medication therapy management team.

Physicians are constantly managing risks and benefits of medications with patients, and sometimes the potential for adverse effects is not fully recognized.

“When physicians and pharmacists work together, everyone wins,” Moga said. “It’s clear that including a pharmacist on the patient-care team means better outcomes and better healthcare for patients.”

“This study highlights the benefits of patient-centered medical teams that improve drug choices and the health of elderly patients, many of whom have highly complex medical conditions and needs,” said Greg Graf, assistant dean for translational research and UK College of Pharmacy faculty member. “The project is a collaborative effort between the UK Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy, and we’re proud of the work we’re able to do together.”

This research was funded in part by the UK Center for Clinical and Translational Sciences, Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, the National Institutes of Health, the Office of Women’s Health Research and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.


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