You have access to good health care
David Smart/Shutterstock Yep: Just being a patient and growing old with good insurance means you could be at risk for over-prescribing. Prescription drugs are designed to heal or manage long-term health issues, but some patients are victims of something called polypharmacy—they’re taking too many prescription drugs and over-the-counter meds, plus supplements. Currently, nearly half of men and two-thirds of women over 65 in the United States are on five or more medications, which is the accepted definition of polypharmacy. Sometimes patients get prescriptions they don’t need, or two or more pills in their regimen are interacting in dangerous ways. “It is not uncommon for patients to be on multiple meds from multiple doctors at one time,” warns Pawan Grover, MD, a spine specialist in Houston, Texas. “This is dangerous because we don’t know the complex interactions and side effects of so many drugs.” Here are 10 more things you need to know about polypharmacy.
You’re seeing several doctors
ldutko/Shutterstock “Most patients assume that their doctors are in direct and constant communication with each other and coordinating their care, but this is simply not the case, given the hectic nature of medical practice these days,” explains Grover. “For example, if a patient develops a problem with the stomach while being on a certain drug, he has to be referred to a G.I. specialist. The G.I. specialist is obligated to run a battery of tests. The patient subsequently might be placed on meds to treat the stomach issues. Suppose the patient develops dizziness from the combination of the medications he is on, he will then be referred to a neurologist, who will also be obligated to run a battery of tests and might prescribe medications to treat the dizziness. And so on…”
Studies have also found that elderly patients are often prescribed too many medications, some of which are unnecessary or could be replaced with a different, safer drug. One study found that 44 percent of frail, older patients were taking at least one drug unnecessarily, and another study of over 200,000 older veterans with diabetes found that over half of them were candidates for quitting a blood pressure or blood sugar control medication.