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Seniors at Risk with Too Many Doctors

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Older adults often find themselves with more than one doctor managing their care. Research shows that seniors can put themselves at risk with multiple medications from several doctors. Check out the practical advice below along with the Home Instead network's Senior Emergency KitSM at

Q. I'm a 78-year-old woman who sees five doctors for several different ailments. Sometimes I get very confused. What can I do to keep all these doctors and medications straight, and what are my risks in managing my medical issues?

An interesting study revealed that the more doctors that seniors see the greater their risk for dangerous drug errors.

An analysis of prescription drug alerts conducted by Medco Health Solutions, Inc., found that the greater the number of physicians seen by a patient over age 65, the greater the number of prescriptions the patient fills, and thus the greater the risk for dangerous drug errors including drug-to-drug interactions; under- or over-utilization of a drug; duplication of therapies; and incorrect dosages.

The findings call into question how well different doctors and specialists caring for patients over 65 exchange information about the medications they are prescribing, and statistically, it correlates a larger care team with a greater risk for preventable medication errors.

The study found that seniors receiving prescriptions from two different physicians filled an average of 27 prescriptions in a year and were at risk for 10 potential prescription drug errors. However, when the care team consisted of five doctors, the number of prescriptions filled in one year jumped to 42, and the number of potential drug errors jumped to 16 (a 60-percent increase).

The first thing you should do is have a family member or trusted friend accompany you to your doctor's appointments. That individual can help you keep your appointments, instructions and medications organized.

Following are other things to consider:

  • Always tell the doctor you're seeing what medications you are currently taking; write those down for your appointment. (Check out the medication tracker (PDF 594KB).
  • Take notes on what the doctor says or ask the person who's accompanying you to do so. (Download the doctor visit worksheet (PDF, 590KB).
  • Ask the doctor if any of the medications that he or she prescribes will interact in a negative way with medications that you're taking as prescribed by other doctors.
  • Finally, if you're confused about anything, make sure you ask your doctor to explain it again.

If you have no family or friends close by, consider hiring Home Instead® to schedule a CAREGiverSM to be with you. The company's CAREGivers are screened, bonded and insured, and provide many services for older adults including accompanying them to doctor's appointments, providing medication reminders, and assisting with errands and shopping.

Also, check out the Home Instead network's Senior Emergency KitSM program at for more resources and practical tips on how you can help a senior stay safe from medication mishaps.

For more about the Medco study visit

Last revised: July 14, 2011

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