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Who’s At Risk for Tardive Dyskinesia?

Medications for severe illness can be lifesaving, but they also may present side effects that are a challenge to manage. Tardive dyskinesia, for example, is an involuntary movement disorder related to long-term use of medications like antipsychotics.  

Tardive dyskinesia affects 500,000 people in the United States. But too few get screened or even know about the disease. 

About Tardive Dyskinesia 

Tardive dyskinesia causes involuntary, repetitive movements — most commonly in the face, but often in the limbs, torso and other parts of the body. Symptoms can elicit stigma and unwanted attention, seriously impacting a person’s quality of life.  

Risk factors for tardive dyskinesia include age, sex and related comorbidities.  

Insurance Reimbursement & Screening Access 

Screening and early diagnosis help patients manage tardive dyskinesia symptoms before they interfere with daily living.  

The Abnormal Involuntary Movement Scale is one available screening tool. It is a short questionnaire administered by an experienced clinician to identify patients on medications that may cause tardive dyskinesia.  

Patients, however, aren’t always screened – even if they have risk factors. Greater awareness of screening options, both among patients and providers, would help. So would the establishment of health plan billing codes for these screenings, which currently don’t exist.  

A straightforward billing code and process would allow providers to be reimbursed for screening, encouraging earlier diagnosis and treatment for patients.  

Earlier Screening, More Personalized Care 

With treatments for tardive dyskinesia constantly evolving, earlier interventions could mean more personalized care and better disease management.  

FDA-approved medications, like VMAT2 inhibitors, can reduce both the symptoms and the distress or embarrassment that many patients feel about involuntary muscle movements. Other treatments, like deep brain stimulation, also have proven effective in some cases. But patients’ access to effective treatment can be difficult. 

Utilization management tactics like step therapy and prior authorization force patients to wait for prescribed treatments while symptoms worsen. Health plan-preferred alternatives may introduce unwanted side effects.  

Tardive dyskinesia can make daily activities frustrating or impossible. To reduce the disease’s impact, providers need proper reimbursement for screening, while patients need early screening, support and timely access to care. 

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