Search tips
Search criteria 


Logo of nihpaAbout Author manuscriptsSubmit a manuscriptHHS Public Access; Author Manuscript; Accepted for publication in peer reviewed journal;
Arch Intern Med. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2013 February 19.
Published in final edited form as:
PMCID: PMC3575737

Inappropriate Medications in Elderly ICU Survivors: Where to Intervene?

A Morandi, MD,1,2,3 EE Vasilevskis, MD,1,2,4,9 PP Pandharipande, MD, MSCI,5,10 TD Girard, MD, MSCI,1,2,3,11 LM Solberg, MD,1,5,11 EB Neal, PharmD,6 T Koestner, MS,12 RE Torres, MS,7 JL Thompson, MPH,7 AK Shintani, PhD, MPH,7 JH Han, MD, MSc,8 JF Schnelle, PhD,1,4,11 DM Fick, PhD,13 EW Ely, MD, MPH,1,2,3,11 and S Kripalani, MD, MSc4

Elderly patients are often prescribed potentially inappropriate medications (PIMs) during their hospital stay which are still present at discharge.1 It is, however, unknown where these PIMs are initiated (i.e., pre-hospital, pre-ICU ward, ICU, post-ICU ward) and if they are stopped or continued across care transitions within the hospital. Furthermore, it is unclear if these PIMs are actually inappropriate medications (AIMs), given the patients’ underlying medical condition. We evaluated medication appropriateness in a cohort of critically ill elderly patients, assessing the number and types of PIMs and AIMs at hospital discharge and determining their source of initiation.


This prospective cohort study included patients age ≥ 60 at an 800-bed academic hospital, who were discharged after receiving care in a medical, surgical, or cardiovascular ICU for shock or respiratory failure. We excluded patients who died during hospitalization or were discharged to hospice. Informed consent was obtained initially at enrollment from an available surrogate; patients provided consent when competent. The institutional review board approved the study.

Demographics and severity of illness were recorded. Medications prescribed at up to 5 distinct time points—pre-admission (i.e., outpatient medications recorded at the time of admission), ward admission (i.e., outpatient medications that were continued at admission plus newly prescribed inpatient medications), ICU admission, ICU discharge, and hospital discharge— were abstracted from the electronic health record.

PIMs were defined using the 2003 Beers criteria2 and supplemented with additional medications from more recently published medication safety scales or lists.36

PIMS were evaluated to determine if they were actually inappropriate, (i.e., AIMs) based on the patient’s medical status by a clinical panel comprised of a hospitalist, geriatrician, and clinical pharmacist. Via the hospital’s integrated electronic health record the clinical panel reviewed the patient’s medical history, clinical course, hospital discharge medications, and laboratory data, including creatinine clearance, to determine if each PIM at hospital discharge was actually inappropriate.7 A PIM was considered an AIM when at least two out the three members of the clinical panel considered it inappropriate for the patient based on criteria specified in the Medication Appropriateness Index, including indication, dosage, and likely effectiveness, as well as drug-drug interactions and, drug-disease interactions.8 This approach was designed to simulate multidisciplinary clinical decision-making on rounds and therefore, we did not calculate kappa statistics.

Patients’ demographic and clinical variables were summarized using median and interquartile range (IQR) for continuous variables or proportions for categorical variables. The numbers of PIMs and AIMs prescribed per patient were described and analyzed as continuous variables. We used the Wilcoxon signed-rank test to compare the distribution of pre-admission PIMs per patient to the distribution at hospital discharge. We used R (version 2.11.1) for all statistical analyses. P <0.05 was considered statistically significant.


We enrolled 120 patients, whose median age was 68 years (IQR, 66–74), and APACHE II was 27 (IQR, 20–32). The percentage of patients prescribed at least 1 PIM increased from 66% at pre-admission to 85% at discharge. The number of patients with 0 PIMs dropped from 34% at preadmission to 14 % at discharge, and the number of patients with 3 or more PIMS increased from 16% at preadmission to 37% at discharge. (Figure-A) Overall, the number of PIMs prescribed per patient at hospital discharge was significantly higher than at pre-admission (median [IQR], 2 [1–3] vs. 1 [0–2], P<0.001). Importantly, 50% of the PIMs at hospital discharge were first prescribed in the ICU; only 20% were first prescribed on the hospital wards, and 30% were present at pre-admission.

Proportion of a patients with PIMs at pre-admission and at discharge

Among the 103 patients with 1 or more PIMs at hospital discharge, 59% had at least 1 AIM. The distribution of AIMs is shown in Figure-B. Most (59%) of the AIMs at hospital discharge were first prescribed in the ICU; 20% were first prescribed on the wards, and 21% were present at pre-admission.

Proportion of patients with AIMs at discharge


Advances in critical care medicine have led to a greater number of elderly ICU survivors. These survivors experience numerous transitions in care during hospitalization, polypharmacy, and are at high risk of adverse drug events after hospital discharge. In the present study, 85% of elderly ICU survivors were discharge from the hospital with 1 or more PIM. A unique aspect of our study, and a concerning finding, was that more than half of these patients were discharged with 1 or more AIM, medications deemed more harmful than beneficial to the patient. Similarly Hajjar et al.9 found 44% of elderly veterans were prescribed at least 1 AIM at hospital discharge. In our cohort, half of PIMs and, more importantly, the majority of AIMs at hospital discharge were initiated in the ICU. While it is possible that these drugs may be appropriate when started during the course of an acute illness in the ICU (e.g., stress ulcer prophylaxis with H2-antagonists in mechanically ventilated patients), most should have been discontinued at ICU and/or hospital discharge.

Our study highlights the importance of performing an evaluation of medication appropriateness during reconciliation of medications at hospital admission, ICU discharge, and hospital discharge. The increase in PIMs and AIMs may reflect multiple unique challenges that include: inadequate standardization of medication reconciliation procedures at transition of care, poor communication between ICU- and ward-based physicians, and inadequate understanding of the dangers of individual medications in the high risk elderly population.

Given the high prevalence of PIMs and AIMs among elderly survivors of critical illness, physicians practicing in the ICU and hospital wards, should be more attentive to the appropriateness of continuing medications started in the ICU. Better coordination is needed at this transition point, with attention to the rationale for starting each medication in the ICU and discussion of when they can be stopped. Potential solutions for reducing inappropriate medications may include electronic medical records surveillance, routine clinical evaluation (e.g., geriatrician and clinical pharmacist), and/or improved hand-off communication between discharging and accepting providers. Incorporating this assessment of medication appropriateness into the medication reconciliation process when patients are discharged or transferred out of the ICU has the potential to enhance patient safety.


Dr. Pandharipande is supported by the VA Clinical Science Research and Development Service (VA Career Development Award). Dr. Ely is supported by the VA Clinical Science Research and Development Service (VA Merit Review Award), and the National Institutes of Health (AG027472). Dr Ely has received honoraria from GSK, Pfizer, Lilly, Hospira, and Aspect. Dr. Girard is supported by the National Institutes of Health (AG034257). Drs. Ely and Girard are both supported by the Veterans Affairs Tennessee Valley Geriatric Research, Education and Clinical Center (GRECC). Dr. Fick acknowledges partial support for this work by Award Number R01 NR011042 from the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NINR or NIH. Dr. Kripalani is supported by K23 HL077597. The authors’ funding sources did not participate in the planning, collection, analysis or interpretation of data or in the decision to submit for publication. The investigators had full access to the data and were responsible for the study protocol, statistical analysis plan, progress of the study, analysis, reporting of the study and the decision to publish.

Reference List

1. Rothberg MB, Pekow PS, Liu F, et al. Potentially inappropriate medication use in hospitalized elders. J Hosp Med. 2008;3:91–102. [PubMed]
2. Fick DM, Cooper JW, Wade WE, Waller JL, Maclean JR, Beers MH. Updating the Beers criteria for potentially inappropriate medication use in older adults: results of a US consensus panel of experts. Arch Intern Med. 2003;163:2716–2724. [PubMed]
3. Rudolph JL, Salow MJ, Angelini MC, McGlinchey RE. The anticholinergic risk scale and anticholinergic adverse effects in older persons. Arch Intern Med. 2008;168:508–513. [PubMed]
4. Wright RM, Roumani YF, Boudreau R, et al. Effect of central nervous system medication use on decline in cognition in community-dwelling older adults: findings from the Health, Aging And Body Composition Study. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2009;57:243–250. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
5. McEvoy GK, Snow EK, Miller J, Kester L, Welsh OH. American Hospital Formulary Service Drug Information® (AHFS) 1. American Society of Health-System Pharmacists; 2009.
6. Gallagher P, O’Mahony D. STOPP (Screening Tool of Older Persons’ potentially inappropriate Prescriptions): application to acutely ill elderly patients and comparison with Beers’ criteria. Age Ageing. 2008;37:673–679. [PubMed]
7. Gizzi LA, Slain D, Hare JT, Sager R, Briggs F, III, Palmer CH. Assessment of a safety enhancement to the hospital medication reconciliation process for elderly patients. Am J Geriatr Pharmacother. 2010;8:127–135. [PubMed]
8. Hanlon JT, Schmader KE, Samsa GP, et al. A method for assessing drug therapy appropriateness. J Clin Epidemiol. 1992;45:1045–1051. [PubMed]
9. Hajjar ER, Hanlon JT, Sloane RJ, et al. Unnecessary drug use in frail older people at hospital discharge. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2005;53:1518–1523. [PubMed]