More drugs don't yield healthier patients

Higher levels of drug spending does not always deliver better quality of care for Medicare patients, concludes a new study published in the Nov. 3 online edition of the New England Journal of Medicine.

The study analyzed 500,000 Medicare patient records and found that Medicare drug spending varied widely across the U.S., as well as the rate of inappropriate prescriptions for the elderly, reports HealthDay News. For example, high-risk drugs were prescribed to 44 percent of Medicare patients in Alexandria, La., but only 11 percent in the Bronx, N.Y.

The lack of correlation between spending and patient health "contradicts the idea that high spending leads to better prescription practices," lead investigator Dr. Yuting Zhang said in a statement. "Our results are consistent, however, with an association between lower-quality prescription patterns and more adverse drug events that may require additional expense to treat," she added.

The researchers at University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health also found that regions where patients were more likely to be prescribed high-risk or potentially harmful drugs did not necessarily spend more on drugs overall, notes Reuters.

"Higher spending can be justified if it's for drugs that are necessary and appropriate and improve patients' health," said Zhang. "But if certain drugs are being incorrectly prescribed to seniors, then that can lead to complications and expensive interventions, such as hospitalization."

In a related study in the this week's NEJM, researchers discovered that when Medicare cuts reimbursement rates for a drug that could be used inappropriately, doctors used it less often and more effectively, reports Reuters.

According to Dr. Paul Griner of the University of Rochester, medical schools should teach students about costs, and that unnecessary or inappropriate treatment accounts for as much as 20 percent of healthcare spending.

For more:
- check out the study
- read the HealthDay News article
- read the Reuters article

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