“Prescribing Inertia” and “Medication Reconciliation.” Familiar Terms?

The “Interesting Article of the Week” is:

Knowing how to stop: ceasing prescribing when the medicine is no longer required.

J Manag Care Pharm. 2012 Jan-Feb;18(1):68-72.  Ostini RHegney DJackson CTett SE.

Pubmed citation found here. Free full text!

Happy medicationThis is a great paper about “prescribing inertia,” which is the tendency for medications, once prescribed, to be continued indefinitely even when this is not good medical practice.  The easiest example that comes to mind is PPIs, like omeprazole.  Once a patient gets started on a PPI, it tends to be continued forever.  Other examples, however, are NSAIDS, anti-depressants and chronic benzodiazepines.  If the clinical indication for a medication has passed, the patient cannot get any benefit from the drug but still is susceptible to all of the medication’s side effects.

Let me give two examples that I am personally acquainted with.  A friend of mine began to take high dose Naproxen due to a minor athletic injury.  When the injury healed, he continued to take Naproxen every night before bed even though he did not hurt any more simply because it was his habit and because (as he put it) “Maybe I’ll wake up with pain during the night.”  Unfortunately, what he woke up with one morning was projectile vomiting of bright red blood from his NSAID-induced ulcer.

Another friend was started on blood pressure medications when he was overweight and out of shape.   Year or so later, he became quite fit and lost a substantial amount of weight.   However, nobody thought to see if he still needed antihypertensive drugs—despite the fact that every single blood pressure he had over the next four years was normal, and I mean like 108/66 normal.  Hypertension, of course, like Type 2 diabetes, is part of the “metabolic syndrome,” and often will improve or even go away entirely if patients lose weight.  This particular guy competes in Triathlons, for heaven’s sake!  So, his doctor finally stopped his blood pressure meds and–who’d a thunk it?—his blood pressures remained normal.

I see this frequently in my jails.  Patients come to jail taking medications that they clearly don’t need (in my opinion).  Doxycycline for invisible acne.  Metformin for patients without Type 2 diabetes (or even insulin resistance).  Two different  SSRIs in the same patient.

According to this weeks interesting article, the main obstacle to stopping unnecessary medications is the patient’s perception that taking these medications is the standard of care and that stopping them is substandard care.  “My doctor thinks I need this,” they will say.

I agree.  In order to effectively stop unnecessary medications, you need to have patient buy-in.  In my experience, the easiest way in correctional medicine to get patient buy-in is to call the patient’s outside physician, explain what medication changes you want to make, and ask if that is OK.  Almost always, the outside physician will agree.  Then you can approach the patient by saying, “I’ve been talking to your doctor and we both think we should make some changes in your medications.  Here are the changes and here is why we are doing it (with the emphasis on we).”  (see The Right Way to Deal with Outside Physicians).

There actually is a term for this process.  It is called “Medication Reconciliation” and is a term invented by JCAHO, which accredits hospitals.  JCAHO requires all hospitals to do a “Medication Reconciliation” for each and every patient being discharged from that hospital.  Even ER patients!

The process of Medication Reconciliation in hospitals involves going over each patient’s personal medication list, plus any new medications prescribed at the hospital, looking for unnecessary medications, unnecessary polypharmacy, drug interactions, etc.  Often in the hospital, this is done with the aid of a clinical pharmacist.

I think “Medication Reconciliation” is a great term and a great idea that we should adopt in Correctional Medicine.  But instead of doing our “Medication Reconciliation” when patients are discharged from our facilities, we should do it when patients come into the facility.  Input from a clinical pharmacist, especially for complicated cases or long drug lists, would be especially helpful.

Do you have any good stories about “Medication Reconciliation” at your facility?  Please comment!