Physicians who care for older adults or other patients with multiple chronic conditions understand that deprescribing unnecessary or inappropriate therapies is central to providing high-quality care and improving patient safety. An editorial by Drs. Barbara Farrell and Dee Mangin in the January 1 issue of AFP reviewed the health risks associated with polypharmacy (taking five or more chronic medications) and provided a table of resources for each step of the deprescribing process, including several evidence-based guidelines co-written by the authors. AFP's Practice Guidelines department summarized their guideline on deprescribing antipsychotics for dementia and insomnia last September and reviewed how to taper benzodiazepine receptor agonists for insomnia in adults in the January 1 issue.
A 2018 systematic review in the British Journal of General Practice reviewed data from 27 randomized, controlled trials of deprescribing a range of drug classes in adults aged 50 years or older in primary care settings. In 19 studies, at least half of patients in the intervention groups were able to stop their medications completely, and adverse effects were uncommon. However, the risk of "relapse" (needing to resume the drug after completely discontinuing it) ranged from 2 to 80 percent.
Patient expectations, medical culture, and organizational constraints can present barriers to deprescribing. A qualitative study of New Zealand primary care physicians in the Annals of Family Medicine described deprescribing as "swimming against the tide." Study participants recommended several practice and system-level interventions to support deprescribing that could also be applied to practices in the U.S.:
- Targeted funding for annual medicines review
- Computer alerts to prompt physicians’ memories
- Computer systems to improve information sharing between prescribers
- Improved access to non-pharmaceutical therapies
- Research to build the evidence base in multimorbidity, education and training
- Ready access to expert advice and user-friendly decision support
- Updating guidelines to include advice on when to consider stopping medicines
- Tools and resources to assist in the communication of risk to patients
- Activating patients to become more involved in medicines management and alert to the possibility that less might be better
Along those lines, the AFP editorial also provided a Table of examples of language that family physicians can use to discuss deprescribing with patients and facilitate shared decision-making.