Psychotropic prescribing for the elderly in office-based practice

R R Aparasu, J R Mort, S Sitzman
Clinical Therapeutics 1998, 20 (3): 603-16
This study employed data from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NAMCS) 1995 to (1) determine the prevalence of the prescribing of psychotropic drugs for elderly patients by office-based physicians in the United States; (2) estimate the prevalence of the prescribing of potentially inappropriate psychotropic drugs in this patient population; and (3) identify any factors that predict such prescribing. For the purposes of this study, previously developed consensus criteria were adopted defining inappropriate psychotropic drugs as those that should be avoided in the elderly. According to the NAMCS data, psychotropic medications were prescribed in an estimated 12.02 million visits by elderly patients (95% confidence interval [CI], 11.07-12.97 million). The psychotropic medications most frequently prescribed for elderly patients by office-based physicians were antidepressants and antianxiety agents. The occurrence of visits at which psychotropic medications were prescribed was greater in patients who were over 84 years of age, female, white, or from the western United States. Primary care physicians prescribed the majority of these psychotropic drugs, and most visits to psychiatrists by elderly patients resulted in the prescribing of psychotropic drugs. Office-based physicians prescribed at least one potentially inappropriate psychotropic medication in 2.03 million visits by the elderly (95% CI, 1.70-2.36 million), or 16.87% of visits by the elderly involving prescriptions for psychotropic drugs. The most frequently prescribed potentially inappropriate psychotropic drugs were amitriptyline and long-acting benzodiazepines such as diazepam, chlordiazepoxide, and flurazepam. Logistic regression analyses revealed that inappropriate prescribing of psychotropic drugs for elderly patients was associated with particular patient characteristics (visit due to an injury), drug characteristics (number of medications prescribed and the drug being an antidepressant or antianxiety agent), and physician characteristics (psychiatric specialty and location in the South or Northeast). The patterns of psychotropic prescribing found in the ambulatory setting raise concerns about the quality of care being received by elderly patients with psychiatric illnesses.

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