Reducing Polypharmacy from the Perspectives of General Practitioners and Older Patients: A Synthesis of Qualitative Studies

Drugs Aging. 2016 Apr;33(4):249-66. doi: 10.1007/s40266-016-0354-5.


Background: Polypharmacy, common in elderly multimorbid adults, leads to increased iatrogenic health risks. Yet, no consistent approach to stopping medicines exists in primary healthcare.

Objectives: Our objective was to synthesize qualitative studies exploring the perspectives and experiences of general practitioners (GPs) and older patients in reducing polypharmacy and to discover approaches already being practiced.

Methods: We conducted a search in the PubMed, Cochrane Library, Web of Science Core Collection, and Scopus databases to identify qualitative studies in the primary care setting addressing multimorbid older patients and polypharmacy reduction. The seven-step model of meta-ethnography allowed for cross-interpretation between studies considering their original context and developing theories.

Results: A total of 14 studies from the perspectives of patients (n = 6) and providers (n = 8) were included, although discontinuing medicines only occurred as a sub-theme in patient studies. Emerging key concepts for patients were experimenting with medicines, attitudes and experiences towards medicines, necessity of prioritizing treatments, relationship to GP, and system-related contributors. For GPs, they covered assumptions about elderly patients, interface prescribing problems, evidence-based guidelines, failure to meet the challenge of complex decision-making, and solutions.

Discussion: Complex medication regimens and uncertainties in decision making are challenges for both GPs and patients. For patients, symptom experiences with medicines, relationship with their prescriber, and fragmented care are at the forefront; for GPs, it is the decision-making responsibility in the context of unsuitable guidelines, time constraints, and deficient multidisciplinary co-operation. Heuristics such as prioritizing and individualizing treatments and relaxation of guidelines emerged. These strategies require professional awareness of the problem and establishing a trusting, patient-centered consultation style and supportive work conditions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging
  • Decision Making
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • General Practitioners / psychology*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Patient Satisfaction*
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Polypharmacy*
  • Primary Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Qualitative Research