Background: Elderly patients are particularly vulnerable and most at risk of suffering adverse drug reactions, which are often caused by inappropriate prescribing practice. Gaining insight into physicians' drug prescribing patterns in order to identify prescribing problems is the fundamental first step in trying to improve the quality of prescribing.
Objectives: We aimed to describe drug prescribing in general practice for elderly patients, using patients' age and sex, encounters, indications for prescribing and the occurrence of some predefined inappropriate drug prescriptions.
Methods: A cross-sectional, descriptive study was conducted in the Norwegian county of More & Romsdal. All patient contacts (n = 16 874) and prescriptions (n = 16 774) issued during two months in general practice were recorded. In defining inappropriate prescriptions, explicit criteria were used.
Results: Prescriptions (of which 72% were repeat) were issued during two-thirds of all contacts, and 63% were for females. Seventy per cent of all prescriptions were made up by the ten most commonly prescribed therapeutic groups, for which the three most frequent diagnostic indications for prescribing comprised between 47 and 89% of all diagnoses for prescribing each of them. About one in six patients who received a benzodiazepine tranquillizer was concurrently prescribed another benzodiazepine for sleeping problems. In total, 13.5% of all prescriptions met at least one of the criteria listed for pharmacological inappropriateness.
Conclusion: Inappropriate drug prescriptions for elderly patients are common in general practice. Since the majority of the prescribing practice is made up by rather few diagnoses and drugs, improved practice for only a few may nevertheless have a large impact on the total profile.