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Choosing Wisely

AMDA — The Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine (AMDA) is proud to be a partner with the ABIM Foundation in Choosing Wisely®:

AMDA — Dedicated to Long Term Care Medicine (AMDA) is proud to be partnering with the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) Foundation's Choosing Wisely® campaign, to encourage conversations between physicians, patients, and other health care stakeholders about medical tests and procedures that may be unnecessary and could be harmful. AMDA's full list can be found below, and each item will display corresponding reasoning, tools and resources, and quotes from topic-experts when clicking the "More..." under each item. To collapse the information, click "Less...". Click here for a .pdf version of the list, including sources and an explanation of how the list was created.

JAMDA, the official journal of AMDA, has published a special editorial, which can be found here. AMDA’s annual conference, AMDA Dedicated to Long Term Care Medicine – 2014 featured a concurrent session on AMDA’s involvement in the Choosing Wisely® campaign, presented by AMDA staff, and Clinical Practice Committee members.


Consumer Reports, AMDA, and Others Release “Advice For Caregivers: Treatments and Tests for Seniors”
Consumer Reports recently released “Advice For Caregivers: Treatments and Tests for Seniors,” a “roundup” of medical issues and tips to help patients and families make decisions about health care. Consumer Reports is a partner of the ABIM Foundation’s Choosing Wisely campaign, translating lists of potentially harmful tests and procedures into helpful tools and resources for consumers. The guide includes AMDA’s recommendations on four issues, as well as input from American Geriatrics Society, American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, and more.

AMDA Partners with Consumer Reports to Release Resource on Cholesterol Drugs for People Over 75
AMDA – The Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine (AMDA), along with Consumer Reports, is proud to announce the release of a new, free consumer resource, “Cholesterol Drugs for People Over 75.” The resource, a two-page downloadable information sheet, explains, “Statins are drugs that lower your cholesterol. But if you are age 75 or older and you haven’t had symptoms of heart disease, statins may be a bad idea.” Read more.


1.   Don't insert percutaneous feeding tubes in individuals with advanced
      dementia. Instead, offer oral assisted feedings.


Strong evidence exists that artificial nutrition does not prolong life or improve quality of life in patients with advanced dementia. Substantial functional decline and recurrent or progressive medical illnesses may indicate that a patient who is not eating is unlikely to obtain any significant or long-term benefit from artificial nutrition. Feeding tubes are often placed after hospitalization, frequently with concerns for aspirations, and for those who are not eating. Contrary to what many people think, tube feeding does not ensure the patient's comfort or reduce suffering; it may cause fluid overload, diarrhea, abdominal pain, local complications, less human interaction and may increase the risk of aspiration. Assistance with oral feeding is an evidence-based approach to provide nutrition for patients with advanced dementia and feeding problems.

According to William Smucker, MD, CMD, one of the AMDA members who participated in the Choosing Wisely® workgroup, "People make some logical but incorrect assumptions about the potential benefits of tube feeding. As dementia progresses to the advanced stages, people have trouble eating enough to stay healthy, leading to weight loss. Since weight loss and poor nutrition can lead to problems such as functional decline and pressure ulcers, people think that tube feeding will result in reversal of these conditions. However, this isn't supported by the clinical evidence. In fact, the evidence shows that up to half of Medicare patients with advanced dementia who have feeding tubes inserted die within six months and that this intervention has no positive impact on function or pressure ulcers." He added, "Instead of inserting feeding tubes when people experience weight loss due to progression of dementia, we should be reconsidering goals of care with the family. For example, we should discuss the possibility of hospice and various palliative care interventions that might be appropriate." Dr. Smucker also stresses the benefits of involving family members in hand feeding the resident. "When patients are hand fed, they are getting some social interaction and some level of pleasure from the food," he said, adding, "Even when it's not enough to maintain optimum health, hand feeing is still compassionate. It's the caring thing to do, and it gives families some comfort in knowing that they are contributing to the care of their loved one." He hopes that the inclusion of this issue in the Choosing Wisely® campaign will encourage conversations about end-of-life care and comfort care, as well as put everyone — practitioners, caregivers, and patients alike — on the same page with the evidence.

Tools and resources:

2.   Don't use sliding scale insulin (SSI) for long-term diabetes
      management for individuals residing in the nursing home.


SSI is a reactive way of treating hyperglycemia after it has occurred rather than preventing it. Good evidence exists that SSI is neither effective in meeting the body's insulin needs nor is it efficient in the long-term care (LTC) setting. Use of SSI leads to greater patient discomfort and increased nursing time because patients' blood glucose levels are usually monitored more frequently than may be necessary and more insulin injections may be given. With SSI regimens, patients may be at risk from prolonged periods of hyperglycemia. In addition, the risk of hypoglycemia is a significant concern because insulin may be administered without regard to meal intake. Basal insulin, or basal plus rapid-acting insulin with one or more meals (often called basal/bolus insulin therapy) most closely mimics normal physiologic insulin production and controls blood glucose more effectively.

"Sliding Scale Insulin [SSI] is overused. It basically treats elevated blood glucose after the fact, rather than preventing it. The clinical evidence shows that this is ill-advised for patients and is associated with very high and low glucose levels. Low glucose levels or frank hypoglycemia can result in problems such as falls, fall-related injuries, and hospitalizations," said Naushira Pandya, MD, CMD, a member of the Choosing Wisely® workgroup. "It also puts an incredible burden on patients, who must get insulin injections and have their fingers stuck several times a day. This can be painful and upsetting, especially for individuals with some level of cognitive impairment," she added. "Moreover, SSI is associated with wide glucose excursions, and could be replaced with small and often fewer doses of scheduled insulin." Dr. Pandya is pleased that this issue is included in the Choosing Wisely® campaign because "it will create a discussion point between practitioners, caregivers, patients, and families. This is important, she said, as "health care decision making increasingly is a team activity." The items in the Choosing Wisely® campaign include brief, concise points that practitioners can use to sit down with families to discuss care planning for their loved one, she noted. Dr. Pandya added that because these issued were identified by leading experts in the field and backed by clinical evidence and national standards, they carry with them a high level of credibility. "They create a level playing field for care, giving everyone the same information and rationale. This truly does enable patients, families, and practitioners to work together to choose treatments, interventions, and care wisely."

Tools and resources:

3.   Don't obtain a urine culture unless there are clear signs and
      symptoms that localize to the urinary tract.


Chronic asymptomatic bacteriuria is frequent in the LTC setting, with prevalence as high as 50%. A positive urine culture in the absence of localized urinary tract infection (UTI) symptoms (i.e., dysuria, frequency, urgency) is of limited value in identifying whether a patient's symptoms are caused by a UTI. Colonization (a positive bacterial culture without signs or symptoms of a localized UTI) is a common problem in LTC facilities that contributes to the over-use of antibiotic therapy in this setting, leading to an increased risk of diarrhea, resistant organisms and infection due to Clostridium difficile.An additional concern is that the finding of asymptomatic bacteriuria may lead to an erroneous assumption that a UTI is the cause of an acute change of status, hence failing to detect or delaying the more timely detection of the patient's more serious underlying problem. A patient with advanced dementia may be unable to report urinary symptoms. In this situation, it is reasonable to obtain a urine culture if there are signs of systemic infection such as fever (increase in temperature of equal to or greater than 2°F [1.1°C] from baseline) leukocytosis, or a left shift or chills in the absence of additional symptoms (e.g., new cough) to suggest an alternative source of infection.

It is important to include this issue in the Choosing Wisely® campaign because "an unnecessary course of antibiotics is not harmless to the individual," said Paul Drinka, MD, a member of the AMDA Clinical Practice Committee, and that it is important to look for the appropriate signs and symptoms of a UTI before culturing. He pointed to a study showing that 11 of 96 residents who received an antibiotic for suspected urinary tract infection (UTI) developed C. difficile colitis within three weeks of treatment. He explained, "Inpatient quinolone therapy in the preceding 30 days increased the odds that a symptomatic UTI was caused by a quinolone resistant organism 16 times. Quinolone therapy during the prior six months increased the odds that a febrile UTI was caused by a quinolone resistant organism 1.5 times in outpatients." Patients and family members need to know that an unnecessary course of antibiotics can seriously harm the resident, he said. He added, "They also need to understand that monitoring is not doing nothing. We need protocols to actively monitor for an evolving condition if no specific indication for antibiotic therapy exists. Uncertainty and observation are part of medicine." He also observed, "No criteria will be perfect in the debilitated elderly so that follow-up and judgment will always be needed. Practitioners should be able to deviate from minimum criteria to accommodate unforeseen circumstances if documentation is provided. However, the onslaught of antibiotic resistance clearly motivates us to adopt more specific indications and shorter courses of antibiotic treatment. Close monitoring facilitates withholding antibiotics in residents who do not meet pre-existing criteria until the true nature of the illness declares itself."

Tools and resources:

4.   Don't prescribe antipsychotic medications for behavioral and
      psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD) in individuals with
      dementia without an assessment for an underlying cause of
      the behavior.


Careful differentiation of cause of the symptoms (physical or neurological versus psychiatric, psychological) may help better define appropriate treatment options. The therapeutic goal of the use of antipsychotic medications is to treat patients who present an imminent threat of harm to self or others, or are in extreme distress – not to treat nonspecific agitation or other forms of lesser distress. Treatment of BPSD in association with the likelihood of imminent harm to self or others includes assessing for and identifying and treating underlying causes (including pain; constipation; and environmental factors such as noise, being too cold or warm, etc.), ensuring safety, reducing distress and supporting the patient's functioning. If treatment of other potential causes of the BPSD is unsuccessful, antipsychotic medications can be considered, taking into account their significant risks compared to potential benefits. When an antipsychotic is used for BPSD, it is advisable to obtain informed consent.

It is important to include this issue in the Choosing Wisely® campaign to stress the need to drill down and determine the root cause(s) of behaviors before prescribing medication, said Susan Levy, MD, CMD, a member of the Choosing Wisely® workgroup. It will also encourage regular review of antipsychotic use and dose reduction or discontinuation of these medications as appropriate. "There is a clear goal for the use of antipsychotics - and that involves addressing behaviors that present an immediate threat to the patient or others or that are causing the patient extreme distress. Clinical evidence does not support long-term use of these medications for BPSD. In fact, it shows that these medications can have a negative impact on patients and cause side effects such as akathisa (inability to sit still), tremor and muscle rigor, or acute dystonia (sudden muscular contractions)," she said. She added that it is essential to determine the root causes of BPSD—such as hunger, pain, boredom, or fear—and address those. This calls for practitioners, caregivers, and family members to work together and share information. The Choosing Wisely® campaign, she suggested, will help encourage such communication. "These kinds of partnerships are critical in the new world of medicine. We can have productive discussions around issues such as BPSD using Choosing Wisely® as a basis," Dr. Levy said. She added, "Consumers will appreciate the evidence and expert opinion that back the recommendations in Choosing Wisely®."

Tools and resources:

5.   Don't routinely prescribe lipid-lowering medications in individuals
      with a limited life expectancy.


There is no evidence that hypercholesterolemia, or low HDL-C, is an important risk factor for all-cause mortality, coronary heart disease mortality, hospitalization for myocardial infarction or unstable angina in persons older than 70 years. In fact, studies show that elderly patients with the lowest cholesterol have the highest mortality after adjusting other risk factors. In addition, a less favorable risk-benefit ratio may be seen for patients older than 85, where benefits may be more diminished and risks from statin drugs more increased (cognitive impairment, falls, neuropathy and muscle damage).

"It was important to include this item as the number of older adults placed on cholesterol lowering medications has increased significantly lately," said Hosam Kamel, MD, CMD, a member of the Choosing Wisely® workgroup. He added, "While it is true that increased cholesterol has been linked to increased risk of coronary artery disease and stroke, it is important to realize that these bad effects of cholesterol take years to develop." Published data does not support that prescribing cholesterol lowering drugs helps in the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease in older adults. On the other hand, there is data to support beneficial effects in terms of secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease. I personally do not check cholesterol levels in older adults who do not have a history of diabetes, stroke, or coronary artery disease, as there is no data to support that treating elevated cholesterol in such individuals is beneficial." Dr. Kamel observed that it also is important to note that these medications are not without side effects, particularly in the elderly. "There are risks of myopathy, hepatotoxicity, and cognitive impairment among others, not to mention to high cost of these medication and the laboratory tests needed to monitor for potential adverse events," he said. "I hope that the inclusion of this item in the Choosing Wisely® campaign will shed some light on this controversial issue and remind the providers that cholesterol lowering drugs should not be prescribed routinely in older adults and that risks versus benefits should be carefully evaluated when prescribing such medications to older adults."

Tools and resources:

To view or print the full list, including sources, click here.

Utilizing the List
AMDA encourages its members, other health care practitioners, patients, caregivers, advocates, and other health care stakeholders to use this list as a point of reference when discussing possible tests and procedures.

More AMDA – The Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine (AMDA) Choosing Wisely® materials:

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