Conference Coverage

Get ready for changes in polypharmacy quality ratings



Changes in the accounting for polypharmacy in the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ star rating system are on their way, and managed care organizations should start preparing now for the shift.

Panelists at an Oct. 30 session at the annual meeting of the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy presented strategies for addressing the three areas of polypharmacy that will be tracked in the new rating system, which will replace the current high-risk medication measurement that is being retired this year.

Anticholinergic medications

The first area presented by the panelists was polypharmacy use of multiple anticholinergic medications in older adults (Poly-ACH). The new quality measure will examine the percentage of members aged 65 years or older who are using two or more anticholinergic medications concurrently.

“We know that anticholinergic burden increases the risk of cognitive decline in particular, but it’s also associated with a higher risk of falls, an increased number of hospitalizations, and [diminished] physical function,” said Marti Groeneweg, PharmD, supervisor of clinical pharmacy services at Kaiser Permanente.

Dr. Groeneweg noted that, in addition to using multiple drugs in this class, patients can also benefit from a decrease in the dosage of their drugs, so that should also be considered in managing the medication of beneficiaries.

She highlighted a program Kaiser Permanente started in the Northwest United States to reduce the concurrent use of these drugs. The program targeted tricyclic antidepressants – nortriptyline, in particular.

The company instituted a multipronged approach that included provider detailing of the risks of using multiple drugs and how they could taper schedules, as well as providing them with other supporting resources and a list of safer, alternative drugs. It also reached out to patients to educate them about the risks of their medications and why it was important for them to taper their medications. The third part of the approach was to use the EHR to provide doctors with the best-available information at the point of prescribing. And finally, there was a pharmacist review process put in place for more complex cases.

Dr. Groeneweg emphasized that this information was incorporated into existing programs.

The intervention, which is fairly new, has not been in place long enough to know exactly how well it is working, but early indicators suggest “we are on the right track,” she said, noting that to date there has been a decrease of 28% in the number of tricyclic antidepressant prescriptions per 1,000 Medicare members per month.

CNS medications

The second area the panelists addressed was the polypharmacy use of multiple CNS-active medications in older adults (Poly-CNS).

Rainelle Gaddy, PharmD, Rx clinical programs pharmacy lead at Humana Pharmacy Solutions, , noted that the clinical rationale for this measure was the “increased risk of falls and fractures when these medications are taken concurrently.”

She pointed out that taking one or more of the CNS medications can result in a 1.5-fold increase in the risk for falls, and that risk increases to 2.5-fold if two or more drugs are taken. In addition, a high-dose of these medications can lead to a threefold increase in risk of recurrent falls.

Dr. Gaddy highlighted a number of interventions that could be implemented when the managed care organization is not integrated in the way Kaiser Permanente is.

“Pharmacists can pay a pivotal role [in helping] patients who are receiving these Poly-CNS medications because they are able to interact and talk through the actual patient picture for all their medications ... because pharmacists have always been seen as being a trusted source,” she said.

Dr. Gaddy added that health plans can take a more direct role in reaching out to patients, for example, through telephone outreach, as well as direct mail, email, and newsletters.

“We want to make sure that members have as much information as possible,” she said.

She added that it is very important to include physicians and other prescribers in this process through faxes and information included in EHRs.

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