Background: Polypharmacy is common among older people. The purpose of this study is to describe GPs' views and beliefs on polypharmacy in order to identify the role of the GP in relation to improving prescribing behaviour. The awareness of these often established beliefs is key for understanding behaviour and promoting change which can guide action towards more rational prescribing.
Methods: A qualitative descriptive methodology was used with semi-structured interviews. Interviews were conducted with 65 GPs from the region of Aalst, a district of a mixed urban and rural population in Belgium. The aim of the study was to describe the GPs' perspectives on polypharmacy in primary care.
Results: GPs acknowledge that polypharmacy is a problem in their older patient population, especially because of the risk of adverse drug reactions, interactions and lowered adherence. GPs mention that difficulties in keeping an overview of the exact medication intake is an important problem caused by polypharmacy. The patients' strong belief in their medication and self-medication are seen as important barriers in reducing the number of drugs taken. Next to these patient related factors, there are some factors related to the prescriber, such as the lack of regular evaluation of the medication schedule by GPs and the involvement of several prescribers, especially in a hospital setting. According to the respondents, prevention and evidence based medicine guidelines often induce polypharmacy.
Conclusions: GPs point out that polypharmacy is an important problem in their older patient population. They see an important role for themselves in optimizing drug regimens for their patients. However, they do not have a readymade solution for polypharmacy. The limited set of options for addressing polypharmacy leave GPs feeling powerless to tackle the problem. There is a need for simple GP friendly tools and access to pharmacotherapeutic advice. Future research in this area and interventions seeking to improve prescribing for the elderly will have to focus on practical tools and take into account the GPs' sense of helplessness.