Medication-related problems are common, costly, and often preventable in older adults and lead to poor outcomes. Estimates from past studies in ambulatory and long-term care settings found that 27% of adverse drug events (ADEs) in primary care and 42% of ADEs in long-term care were preventable, with most problems occurring at the ordering and monitoring stages of care.1,2
In a study of the 2000/2001 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, the total estimated healthcare expenditures related to the use of potentially inappropriate medications (PIMs) was $7.2 billion.3
Avoiding the use of inappropriate and high-risk drugs is an important, simple, and effective strategy in reducing medication-related problems and ADEs in older adults. Methods to address medication-related problems include implicit and explicit criteria. Explicit criteria can identify high-risk drugs using a list of PIMs that have been identified through expert panel review as having an unfavorable balance of risks and benefits by themselves and considering alternative treatments available. A list of PIMs was developed and published by Beers and colleagues for nursing home residents in 1991 and subsequently expanded and revised in 1997 and 2003 to include all settings of geriatric care.4–6
Implicit criteria may include factors such as therapeutic duplication and drug–drug interactions. PIMs determined by explicit criteria (Beers Criteria) have also recently been found to identify other aspects of inappropriate medication use identified by implicit criteria.7
As summarized in two reviews, a number of investigators in rigorously designed observational studies have shown a strong link between the medications listed in the Beers Criteria and poor patient outcomes (e.g., ADEs, hospitalization, mortality).7–14
Moreover, research has shown that a number of PIMs have limited effectiveness in older adults and are associated with serious problems such as delirium, gastrointestinal bleeding, falls, and fracture.8,12
In addition to identifying drugs for which safer pharmacological alternatives are available, in many instances a safer nonpharmacological therapy could be substituted for the use of these medications, highlighting that a “less-is-more approach” is often the best way to improve health outcomes in older adults.15
Since the early 1990s, the prevalence of PIM usage has been examined in more than 500 studies, including a number of long-term care, outpatient, acute care, and community settings. Despite this preponderance of information, many PIMs continue to be prescribed and used as first-line treatment for the most vulnerable of older adults.16,17
These studies illustrate that more work is needed to address the use of PIMs in older adults, and there remains an important role in policy, research, and practice for an explicit list of medications to avoid in older adults. Because an increasing number of interventions have been successful in decreasing the use of these drugs and improving clinical outcomes,18,19
PIMs now form an integral part of policy and practice in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) regulations and are used in Medicare Part D. They are also used as a quality measure in the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set (HEDIS). Several stakeholders, including CMS, NCQA, and the Pharmacy Quality Alliance (PQA) have identified the Beers Criteria as an important quality measure. In addition, a few studies have begun to identify nonpharmacological alternatives to inappropriate medications20
and are incorporating Beers Criteria PIMs into electronic health records as an aid to real-time e-prescribing.19
An update of the Beers Criteria should include a clear approach to reviewing and grading the evidence for the drugs to avoid. In addition, the criteria need to be regularly updated as new drugs come to the market, as new evidence emerges related to the use of these medications, and as new methods to assess the evidence develop. Being able to update these criteria quickly and transparently is crucial to their continued use as decision-making tools, because regular updates will improve their relevancy, dissemination, and usefulness in clinical practice.
The 2012 update of the Beers Criteria heralds a new partnership with the American Geriatrics Society (AGS). This partnership allows for regular, transparent, systematic updates and support for the wider input and dissemination of the criteria by expert clinicians for their use in research, policy, and practice. To keep this tool relevant, the updated 2012 AGS Beers Criteria must be current with other methods for determining best-practice guidelines. A rigorous systematic review was performed to update and expand the criteria. As in the past, this update will categorize PIMs into two broad groups: medications to avoid in older adults regardless of diseases or conditions and medications considered potentially inappropriate when used in older adults with certain diseases or syndromes. A third group, medications that should be used with caution, has been added. Medications in this group were initially considered for inclusion as PIMs. In these cases, the consensus view of the panel (described below) was that there were a sufficient number of plausible reasons why use of the drug in certain individuals would be appropriate but that the potential for misuse or harm is substantial and thus merits an extra level of caution in prescribing. In some cases, these medications were new to the market, and evidence was still emerging.