Evidence-Based Deprescribing: Reversing the Tide of Potentially Inappropriate Polypharmacy

2016 Archives, Archives, August 2016, Vol. 23, No. 8, Clinical Review

Ian A. Scott, MBBS, FRACP, MHA, MEd, Kristen Anderson, BPharm, AACPA, and Christopher Freeman, BPharm, GDipClinPharm, PhD, AACPA, BCACP

From the Department of Internal Medicine and Clinical Epidemiology, Princess Alexandra Hospital, Ipswich Road, Woolloongabba, Queensland, Australia (Dr. Scott), School of Medicine, The University of Queensland, Herston Road, Brisbane, Australia (Dr. Scott), Centre of Research Excellence in Quality & Safety in Integrated Primary-Secondary Care, The University of Queensland, Herston Road, Brisbane, Australia (Ms. Anderson), and Charming Institute, Camp Hill, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia (Dr. Freeman).



Objective: To review the adverse drug events (ADEs) risk of polypharmacy; the process of deprescribing and evidence of efficacy in reducing inappropriate polypharmacy; the enablers and barriers to deprescribing; and patient and system of care level strategies that can be employed to enhance deprescribing.

Methods: Literature review.

Results: Inappropriate polypharmacy, especially in older people, imposes a significant burden of ADEs, ill health, disability, hospitalization and even death. The single most important predictor of inappropriate prescribing and risk of ADEs in older patients is the number of prescribed medicines. Deprescribing is the process of systematically reviewing, identifying, and discontinuing potentially inappropriate medicines (PIMs), aimed at minimizing polypharmacy and improving patient outcomes. Evidence of efficacy for deprescribing is emerging from randomized trials and observational studies, and deprescribing protocols have been developed and validated for clinical use. Barriers and enablers to deprescribing by individual prescribers center on 4 themes: (1) raising awareness of the prevalence and characteristics of PIMs; (2) overcoming clinical inertia whereby discontinuing medicines is seen as being a low value proposition compared to maintaining the status quo; (3) increasing skills and competence (self-efficacy) in deprescribing; and (4) countering external and logistical factors that impede the process.

Conclusion: In optimizing the scale and effects of deprescribing in clinical practice, strategies that promote depresribing will need to be applied at both the level of individual patient–prescriber encounters and systems of care.


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