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Medication prescribing reflects regional variations, study finds

October 30, 2013
by Sandra Hoban, Managing Editor
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Where a senior lives plays a part in the type of healthcare he or she receives and the medications that are prescribed, according to a report released by the Dartmouth Atlas Project. Based on an examination of 2010 prescription data from Medicare Part D drug coverage beneficiaries, researchers separated the country into 306 regions and found wide disparity on the types of medications, brand-name and healthcare delivered across the country.

Researchers determined that in 2010, the average senior with Medicare Part D filled 49 standard 30-day prescriptions. Seniors in Miami averaged 63 prescriptions at the high end, while Part D participants in Grand Junction, Colo., filled an average of 39 prescriptions a year.

In its report, researchers also found that more than one in four Part D beneficiaries had filled at least one medication described as high-risk for people over 65 years of age. Potentially high-risk meds include skeletal muscle relaxants and sedating antihistamines. Again, regional bias played a role. For example, 43 percent of patients in Alexandria, La., were more likely to be prescribed at least one high-risk medication than someone in Rochester, Minn. (14 percent). As a result of their analysis, researchers question whether regional practice cultures explain the variations in the quality and quantity of prescription drug use.

“Instead of varying widely, patterns of care should be nearly uniform across the country for noncontroversial drug therapies with a strong evidence of their use,” Katherine Hempstead, PhD, MA, senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation said in a release.

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