Three-year study will focus on seniors and improvements to medication management

January 17, 2008

WORCESTER, Mass.—The country’s elderly population experiences more than 13 million hospitalizations every year. During a hospital stay many medications that patients have been taking at home are discontinued, and many new medications are started.  Nearly half of all medications prescribed at the time of hospital discharge have been newly started. With nearly 60 percent of older adults in the U.S. using five or more different medications per week, and nearly one in five using 10 different medications, there can be substantial confusion around what medications should and should not be taken by the patient upon arriving home.  Often the patient’s primary care physician is not even sure what medications are being taken. A team of researchers from the Meyers Primary Care Institute is investigating the use of health information technology (HIT) to improve the quality and safety of medication use and therapeutic decision-making for elderly patients upon discharge from the hospital to home.

“Today, serious drug interactions and adverse drug events, including injuries, occur frequently in older patients, and the risk is particularly high as older patients are discharged from the hospital and return to the ambulatory setting,” said Jerry H. Gurwitz, MD, executive director of the Meyers Primary Care Institute at Fallon Clinic and professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. “When the patient’s medication regimen changes during the hospitalization, it is essential for the primary care physician to know the medications that their patients have been prescribed in order to provide the best possible care.” 

Gurwitz and colleagues at the Meyers Primary Care Institute, which is a joint endeavor of the University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS), Fallon Clinic Foundation and Fallon Community Health Plan, responded to the recent call by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) to improve the quality of outpatient care through clinician use of HIT.  They have been awarded a $1.2 million grant from AHRQ to develop and evaluate an HIT-based transitional care intervention to improve medication safety for elderly patients as they are discharged to home from the hospital.  By using HIT, Gurwitz and colleagues expect that the delivery of patients’ health information will be more efficiently provided to the primary care clinician to identify medication problems early and monitor older patients more closely.

During the three-year study, Gurwitz and his team will assess the benefits of a medication reconciliation system that is applied to the patient’s electronic medical record. Primary care physicians will receive alerts about changes in the medication regimen and new use of high risk medications that require special monitoring.  The system will also encourage follow-up visits with the primary care physician soon after discharge from the hospital.   “The ultimate goal is to keep the primary care physician fully in the loop, as the patient transitions from hospital to home, said Gurwitz.”  Researchers will assess the impact of this new system on preventable adverse drug events, emergency room visits and repeat hospitalizations.

“The strength of this study lies in the longstanding and successful collaboration between UMass Medical School, the Fallon Clinic and Fallon Community Health Plan, that makes it possible to do research in the community setting that can directly help our older patients.” said Gurwitz. “My colleagues and I believe this study will provide important insights into how the new technology of electronic health records can enhance the quality of medication management in the elderly patient population.”  Other study investigators include Drs. Jennifer Tjia, Terry Field and Lawrence Garber.


About UMMS
The University of Massachusetts Medical School is one of the fastest growing medical schools in the country, attracting more than $174 million in research funding annually.  A perennial top finisher in the annual U.S.News & World Report ranking of primary care medical schools, UMMS comprises a medical school, graduate school of nursing, graduate school of biomedical sciences and an active research enterprise, and is a leader in health sciences education, research and public service.

About Fallon Clinic
Fallon Clinic, a non-profit organization, is the largest multi-specialty group practice in Central Massachusetts. Fallon Clinic physicians and health care professionals offer the region's most comprehensive array of primary care and specialty services, supported with cutting-edge technologies and service-oriented processes. Founded in 1929 by a team of physicians from Mayo Clinic led by Dr. John Fallon, Fallon Clinic continues to grow and thrive. Based in Worcester, Fallon Clinic has over 1,700 employees and nearly 260 physicians who see more than a million patients a year at 26 locations. Fallon Clinic admits to all major hospitals in central Massachusetts and the surrounding area and accepts a broad range of insurance coverage, including plans from all major Massachusetts payers. More information about Fallon Clinic can be found by visiting

About Fallon Community Health Plan
Founded in 1977, Fallon Community Health Plan provides health care services designed to meet the unique and changing needs of all we serve. FCHP is the only health plan in Massachusetts that is both an insurer and provider of care. Our product portfolio includes a variety of group and individual health plan options (HMO, POS, PPO, Medicaid and Medicare Advantage plans) featuring flexible and innovative benefit designs. We administer fully-insured and self-insured funding arrangements with customized services for employers. Our uniquely developed provider networks offer high-quality, cost-effective, coordinated care and give our members access to doctors and hospitals throughout Massachusetts. We also offer a broad spectrum of services and programs to ensure our members, at every stage of life, remain as healthy and productive as possible. FCHP is a provider of care through its Summit ElderCareSM program, an advanced and completely integrated program that offers seniors and their caregivers an alternative to nursing home placement. Our continued commitment to deliver high-quality health care and exceptional customer service has earned FCHP consistent ratings as one of the nation’s top health plans, and in 2007, placed our Medicare and Medicaid health plans as the best in the nation. FCHP is the only health plan in Massachusetts to have been awarded “Excellent” Accreditation by the National Committee for Quality Assurance for our HMO, Medicare Advantage and Medicaid products. For more information, please visit


Contact: Nicole Soucy, Office of Public Affairs, 508-856-2000,