What We're Reading: Risk of Unsafe Prescribing for Dual Users of VA and Medicare

What we’re reading, December 12, 2016: veterans with dementia who used both the Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare system and Medicare were more likely to be prescribed potentially unsafe medications; HHS will begin to conduct on-site privacy compliance audits in 2017; study finds that women with strong social connections have better breast cancer outcomes.

A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine examined the risk of unsafe medication prescribing for veterans with dementia receiving care from the Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare system, some of whom also used Medicare Part D. The dual VA-Medicare users had more than double the odds of exposure to any potentially unsafe medication, with an adjusted average of 44.1 additional days of exposure compared to the VA-only users. The study authors wrote that “receipt of prescription medications across unconnected systems of care may increase the risk for unsafe prescribing.”

The HHS Office for Civil Rights will begin conducting a “small number of on-site audits in 2017” to ensure compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), according to an official. Senior advisor Linda Sanches said the agency is “looking for evidence that [providers] are implementing the policies and procedures” designed to protect patient privacy. The HIPAA audits were supposed to begin last year, but HHS did not release its phase 2 audit protocol until this spring.

Outcomes for women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer varied based on the size of their social networks, according to a study published in Cancer. Socially isolated women had higher risks of breast cancer recurrence, breast cancer-specific mortality, and total mortality than women with larger social networks. Specifically, higher breast cancer-specific mortality was predicted by the lack of a spouse/partner or community ties for older white women, and a lack of relatives or friendship ties for nonwhite women.