A recent study found a shocking prevalence of doctors prescribing medications to elderly patients that exposed them to serious health risks. The study looked at Medicaid patients over the age of 65 who were treated in hospitals in the South and found that many doctors were prescribing drugs that had potentially deadly side effects for elderly patients even though a safer drug was available.
In many of these situations, the drugs are perfectly safe for healthy adults and younger patients but pose a special risk to the elderly. One example of a drug that is safe for younger people but very dangerous for older patients is the anti-anxiety medication Valium. While in healthy adults Valium can be an effective treatment with few side effects, elderly patients metabolize the drug much more slowly. This means that the effect of the dose will last much longer, and prolonged sedation can lead to other problems, such as being at a higher risk for falls or fractures which can be deadly to fragile patients.
In many cases there are alternative medications that could have a similar therapeutic effect but pose less of a risk of harmful side effects to elderly patients. Unfortunately, doctors are apparently choosing not to prescribe them.
Researchers found that about one out of every five people enrolled in Medicare Advantage had been prescribed a high-risk medication in 2009. In all of these cases there was a less risky alternative medication that the patients could have been prescribed instead.
This is not the kind of treatment that older patients deserve from their doctors. Patients who are injured by a prescription mistake, drug interaction, or a dangerous drug may have a right to seek compensation from the doctor or hospital that was responsible for the negligent prescription.
Source: New York Times, "Elderly Patients Routinely Prescribed Risked Drugs," Anahad O'Connor, April 15, 2013.
Information about patient's rights after a medication error can be found on our medical malpractice site.