Partners Health Plan Launches New Program to Reduce Risks for People with IDD Who Take Multiple Medications

By Dr. Steven Merahn

Like many people these days, individuals with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and other intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) are commonly on multiple medications.

Taking five or more medications is called “polypharmacy.” Taking 10 or more is called “excessive polypharmacy.” Studies have shown that one-third of adults with IDD are in the first category while one in five adults with IDD are in the second.

The risks are low when a patient receives prescriptions from the same prescriber every time because the prescriber can ensure the medications are compatible.

But those risks grow significantly when multiple prescribers are involved because they often don’t coordinate with each other. Unless someone is monitoring and overseeing the patient’s care, serious “adverse drug events” can result, including physical harm, mental harm, or loss of function.

This is a particularly serious issue for persons with IDD, who often have complex medical conditions and require treatment from multiple providers.

The National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Biotechnology Information reports that “the rate of adverse drug events to be as high as 84% among adults with IDD,” concluding “these adverse events negatively influence quality of life.”

Another study highlighted by NIH shows, “adults with IDD have 2.5 times higher odds of having hospitalization associated with adverse drug events than the general population.” The study concludes, “patients with IDD are at increased risk for polypharmacy-related adverse outcomes, which are preventable medical errors.”

As the only health plan in New York State exclusively dedicated to supporting the health and well-being of individuals with IDD and their families, Partners Health Plan (PHP) has launched a new program to combat polypharmacy and the harmful adverse drug events it can lead to.

As a health plan, PHP is in the unique position to review every prescription written for each of our members. That means we know every medication that has been prescribed for these patients, regardless of which physician, health system or clinic prescribed it.

As a result of launching our new program, PHP is has begun sharing a comprehensive list of medications – and the adverse event risk profile associated with each of them – with each member’s prescribers. With many of our members taking multiple medications, we believe their prescribers should have all the available information about their patients’ medications, no matter who wrote the prescription.

We are urging primary care providers to regularly review all of the medications that their patients with IDD are taking, with the goal of reducing potential risks from adverse drug events. As the NIH so aptly noted, the adverse outcomes of polypharmacy – or too many prescriptions – are preventable.

Our hope is that PHP’s new program will give primary care providers the information they need to ensure that patients with IDD are receiving their appropriate and needed medications, while at the same time, reducing the risk of adverse drug events.

Steven Merahn, MD, is Medical Director of Partners Health Plan