Engagement and Interoperability Needed to Inform Older Patients of Drug Interactions

Ryan Black

Only a third of Americans over the age of 50 reported speaking to anyone about possible prescription interactions in the past 2 years.

Despite the high number of older Americans who take multiple prescription drugs, very few seek advice about how those prescriptions may interact, according to a new poll from the University of Michigan.

In a survey of nearly 1,700 Americans aged 50 to 80, however, the vast majority reported being confident that they knew how to avoid such interactions. Almost 70% of those polled said they felt “mostly/somewhat confident” in their knowledge of their prescription interactions, while more than 20% reported being “very confident.”

The numbers may be troubling to those in healthcare because 63% of Americans in that age group take 2 or more prescriptions, while 16% take 6 or more. Overall, only 35% reported having spoken to anyone regarding potential drug interactions in the past 2 years. While the number improved for patients who take 6 or more prescriptions, it was still less than half (44%).

The report was part of the University of Michigan’s National Poll on Healthy Aging, which is sponsored by the AARP. The authors say that their findings indicate a need for more engagement of older patients, on both ends of the equation.

“Providers and pharmacists may not be informing patients, in easy to understand language, that a medication review has been done,” they write, but add that, “Older adults also need to be proactive partners in avoiding drug interactions.”

In addition to communication, interoperability can be a stumbling block when it comes to keeping patients informed of potential drug interactions. Older patients with multiple health problems may see multiple doctors and specialists or fill prescriptions at different pharmacies. Given that those institutions may use different electronic health record (EHR) vendors, built-in alert systems intended to detect interactions can have blind spots, leading to potential harm.

"Even with trackers and systems in place, patients need to be open with their providers and tell them all the medications and supplements they're taking, including herbal remedies," Alison Bryant, PhD, senior vice president of research for AARP, said in a statement.

For patients looking to check drug interactions on their own, the AARP does provide a digital tool. Although a majority of American seniors now report having access to the internet, they remain the least likely demographic to use it regularly. As such, the authors write that it is important for physicians and patients alike to pursue better communication about prescriptions, and that the digital portal be used as an adjunct to those conversations rather than a replacement.

The report also recommends patients to bring a list of all medications they take when they go to the pharmacy to fill a prescription.