Aim: To investigate whether polypharmacy defined as a definite number of drugs is a suitable indicator for describing the risk of occurrence of drug-related problems (DRPs) in a hospital setting.
Methods: Patients admitted to six internal medicine and two rheumatology departments in five hospitals were consecutively included and followed during the hospital stay, with particular attention to medication and DRPs. Comparisons were made between patients admitted with five or more drugs and with less than five drugs. Clinical pharmacists assessed DRPs by reviewing medical records and by participating in multidisciplinary team discussions.
Results: Of a total of 827 patients, 391 (47%) used five or more drugs on admission. Patients admitted with five or more and less than five drugs were prescribed the same number of drugs after admission: 4.1 vs. 3.9 drugs [P = 0.4, 95% confidence interval (CI) - 0.57, 0.23], respectively. The proportion of drugs used on admission which was associated with DRPs was similar in the patient group admitted with five or more drugs and in those admitted with less than five drugs. The number of DRPs per patient increased approximately linearly with the increase in number of drugs used; one unit increase in number of drugs yielded a 8.6% increase in the number of DRPs (95% CI 1.07, 1.10).
Conclusion: The number of DRPs per patient was linearly related to the number of drugs used on admission. To set a strict cut-off to identify polypharmacy and declare that using more than this number of drugs represents a potential risk for occurrence of DRPs, is of limited value when assessing DRPs in a clinical setting.