Alzheimer's misdiagnoses running up big Medicare bills

Medicare beneficiaries who receive a misdiagnosis of Alzheimer's could amass between $9,500 and $14,000 in additional medical costs each year until they are correctly diagnosed, according to a new study.

Researchers concluded that new diagnostic technologies that give earlier, more accurate diagnosis of non-Alzheimer's related dementias could help patients avoid unnecessary medical procedures and provide savings within the Medicare system.

Findings published in the July issue of Alzheimer's and Dementia examined data collected on Medicare enrollment, use of medical resources like hospitalizations and emergency room visits and associated payments made to providers.

Approximately 1 in 6 patients studied were incorrectly diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease before receiving a vascular dementia diagnosis, caused by conditions that reduce blood flow to the brain, investigators noted. Furthermore, 1 in 12 patients studied were incorrectly diagnosed with Alzheimer's before a confirmed Parkinson's diagnosis. Those patients misdiagnosed with Alzheimer's were significantly older, more likely to be female and more likely to use medical services.

Patients with vascular dementia or Parkinson's who were misdiagnosed with Alzheimer's had between 61% and 221% more skilled nursing facility visits, between 13% and 56% more home healthcare days, and up to 44% more claims for durable medical equipment. Misdiagnosed patients also had more inpatient days, more ER visits and more physician visits than their correctly diagnosed counterparts.

Once a patient received a corrected diagnosis, researchers found that person's annual medical services costs converged with patients who never were diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Full study results can be found here.