Majority of aged care medication plans going unchecked

New research found just 6% of all residential aged care facilities review more than half of all new residents’ medication programs.

That is the finding of new research from the Registry of Senior Australians at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI).

The study analysed data collected from 143,676 residents across all 2799 residential aged care facilities (RACFs) nationally from 2012–15. It found just 30,883 (21.5%) individuals received a Residential Medication Management Review (RMMR) within 90 days of entry.

And just 6% of all facilities reviewed more than half of all new residents’ medication programs.

Current Australian guidelines recommend an RMMR be provided as soon as possible after an individual first enters permanent residential care.

Lead researcher Dr Janet Sluggett told newsGP the findings point to potential dangers, as older people can be more susceptible to medication-related adverse events.

‘We know that from our previous research … there can be quite a few changes to medications in the 12-month lead-up to entering residential aged care, and also after a person first enters,’ she said.

‘We’ve previously done some work looking at changes in antipsychotic use, antidepressant use, and benzodiazepine use in the 12 months before and after entry to residential aged care, and found that there were sharp increases in the use of those medicines.

‘Also, some residents may enter aged care facilities from hospitals, and we know that when a person’s in hospital that can be a time that medications can change as well.’

The research did note that residents with dementia and those who speak a primary language other than English were 5% and 4% more likely to receive a timely RMMR, respectively.

While Dr Sluggett says the slightly higher provision among cohorts who may have difficulty reporting any side effects is ‘definitely an encouraging finding’, further statistical analysis of individual resident factors associated with higher or lower provision showed very little difference.

There was, however, considerable geographical variation in RMMR provision among individuals in non-metropolitan areas, found to be 25–33% less likely to receive a timely review.

RMMRs are conducted collaboratively by the resident’s GP and a pharmacist. The GP initiates the process, and considers any recommendations when preparing the resident’s medication management plan.

A recent systematic review conducted by Dr Sluggett looking into the impact and outcomes of RMMRs showed clear benefits. It found that 2.7–3.9 medication-related problems are identified on average per resident, and that GPs accept between 45% and 84% of recommendations.

Professor Dimity Pond, a GP with a special interest in aged care, says she has found RMMRs to be ‘very helpful’.

‘No doctor can be aware of all the interactions and side effects of medications from memory, and older people are particularly vulnerable to these. I have found that the pharmacy reviews identify issues which I had never thought of,’ she told newsGP.

‘But it is essential that they are interpreted by the prescribing doctor, because that is the person who knows the patient best.’

The study’s data period of 2012–15 is noted as a limitation, but Dr Sluggett says Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) data suggests few improvements have occurred over the five-year period.

‘When you look at the raw numbers of medication reviews that are paid for just at the crude level, it doesn’t suggest to me that the situation has changed dramatically since that time period,’ she said.

This was reflected in the online submissions to the current Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, one-third of which were medicine-related.

In the recent royal commission interim report, the counsel assisting identified the need for regular and targeted RMMRs for people taking high-risk medications as a national priority.

It was announced in June that the Federal Government would fund pharmacist delivery of the medication reviews via telehealth, and that two follow-up consultations by pharmacists would be remunerated. However, the same provisions have not been made for GPs.

In a submission to the royal commission in November, the RACGP extended its in-principle support to increase access to medicine reviews, but noted that GP involvement is central to better patient outcomes.

‘Though it is stated that “different funding criteria [for GPs and pharmacists] make little sense and cause difficulties” pharmacists are not doctors. They do not have the complete clinical and personal history of the patient or expertise to manage a patient, and reviews should not take place without
GP awareness and oversight,’ the RACGP stated.

‘While in principle this recommendation will support medication management for patients, there must be a mechanism for GP review, including mandatory information sharing with a patient’s GP.’

To ensure optimal medication management for older people in RACFs, the RACGP’s aged care clinical guide (Silver Book) states that it ultimately involves ‘a systematic and multidisciplinary team approach’.

Dr Sluggett agrees.

‘I really do believe that medication safety is a shared responsibility and that GPs, pharmacists, aged care facility staff, and the nurses within the aged care facility are all involved in medication management in some ways for these residents,’ she said.

‘It’s essential that we are all working together in a team to ensure that what we’re doing is resident centered, and that will be the way that we can improve medication safety in this area definitely.’

First published on the RACGP’s newsGP, and republished with their permission.


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  1. I would like to see only qualified Registered Nurses handing out medication for residents in aged care. Why is it that ains are giving out medication? As if we aren’t busy enough! When a new staff member is required to give out medication as ain, they are also having to stop start to respond to other residents needing help. They pay like 90cents an hr. So if you take 2hrs you won’t get paid. What a joke! A joke on the lowest paid worker! Time management the CMs come back with. Bloody awful! I feel like I have stepped into another time and place where low paid servants were treated like slaves! And why are ains expected to do massage? Yep another job given to ains! 5 mims of massage to each resident then we have to fill in on computers that it has been done. I doubt that most massages have been done in reality but it looks good for the facility! Always thought that ains are not allowed to massage residents due to their personal ailments and the real possibility of hurting them. Not so these days guys. With only 1 and 2 physics at my place to look after so many up to 120 it is disgusting that ains have been required to pick up the slack with so little staff and wages. We should not be doing this!


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