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Developing a measure of polypharmacy appropriateness in primary care: systematic review and expert consensus study

Burt, Jenni; Elmore, Natasha; Campbell, Stephen. M.; Rodgers, Sarah; Avery, Anthony J.; Payne, Rupert A.


Jenni Burt

Natasha Elmore

Stephen. M. Campbell

Sarah Rodgers

Rupert A. Payne


Background: Polypharmacy is an increasing challenge for primary care. Although sometimes clinically justified, polypharmacy can be inappropriate, leading to undesirable outcomes. Optimising care for polypharmacy necessitates effective targeting and monitoring of interventions. This requires a valid, reliable measure of polypharmacy, relevant for all patients, that considers clinical appropriateness and generic prescribing issues applicable across all medications. Whilst there are several existing measures of potentially inappropriate prescribing, these are not specifically designed with polypharmacy in mind, can require extensive clinical input to complete, and often cover a limited number of drugs. The aim of this study was to identify what experts consider to be the key elements of a measure of prescribing appropriateness, in the context of polypharmacy.

Methods: Firstly, we conducted a systematic review to identify generic (not drug-specific) prescribing indicators relevant to polypharmacy appropriateness. Indicators were subject to content analysis to enable categorisation. Secondly, we convened a panel of 10 clinical experts to review the identified indicators and assess their relative clinical importance. For each indicator category, a brief evidence summary was developed, based on relevant clinical and indicator literature, clinical guidance, and opinions obtained from a separate patient discussion panel. A two-stage RAND/UCLA Appropriateness Method was used to reach consensus amongst the panel on a core set of indicators of polypharmacy appropriateness.

Results: We identified 20,879 papers for title/abstract screening, obtaining 273 full papers. We extracted 189 generic indicators, and presented 160 to the panel grouped into 18 classifications (e.g. adherence, dosage, clinical efficacy). After two stages, during which the panel introduced 18 additional indicators, there was consensus that 134 indicators were of clinical importance. Following the application of decision rules, and further panel consultation, 12 indicators were placed into the final selection. Panel members particularly valued indicators concerned with adverse drug reactions, contraindications, drug-drug interactions, and the conduct of medication reviews.

Conclusions: We have identified a set of 12 indicators of clinical importance considered relevant to polypharmacy appropriateness. Use of these indicators in clinical practice and informatics systems is dependent on their operationalisation, and their utility (e.g. risk stratification, targeting and monitoring polypharmacy interventions) requires subsequent evaluation.

Trial registration: Registration number: PROSPERO (CRD42016049176)


Burt, J., Elmore, N., Campbell, S. M., Rodgers, S., Avery, A. J., & Payne, R. A. (2018). Developing a measure of polypharmacy appropriateness in primary care: systematic review and expert consensus study. BMC Medicine, 16, 1-15.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date May 16, 2018
Online Publication Date Jun 13, 2018
Publication Date Dec 1, 2018
Deposit Date May 30, 2018
Publicly Available Date Jun 13, 2018
Journal BMC Medicine
Electronic ISSN 1741-7015
Publisher Springer Verlag
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 16
Article Number 91
Pages 1-15
Keywords Polypharmacy; Primary Care; Inappropriate prescribing; Medication errors; Multimorbidity; Consensus methods; Systematic review
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