General practitioners' insight into deprescribing for the multimorbid older individual: a qualitative study

Int J Clin Pract. 2016 Mar;70(3):261-76. doi: 10.1111/ijcp.12780.


Introduction: The majority of older people with chronic diseases are prescribed multiple medicines resulting in polypharmacy. The extrapolation of the 'single disease model' represented by disease-specific guidelines is a major driver for polypharmacy. Polypharmacy is associated with negative health outcomes. Safely reducing or discontinuing harmful medicines, commonly referred to as deprescribing, has been shown to reduce adverse health outcomes, healthcare costs and mortality. However, there are barriers to deprescribing such as time constraints, limited appropriate clinical resources and the influence of multiple prescribers.

Aim: To explore general practitioners' (GPs') opinions and awareness of deprescribing in an older multimorbid patient.

Methods: A qualitative study design using face-to-face semi-structured interviews was implemented. GP practices were randomly selected from two cities in New Zealand. Face-to-face in depth interviews were carried out with participants. A hypothetical profile of a multimorbid patient was included to elicit discussions about whether medicines should be continued or discontinued. Interviews were transcribed verbatim for thematic analysis. Transcripts were read and re-read. Themes were identified with iterative building of a coding list until all data were accounted for. Interviews continued until saturation of ideas occurred.

Results: Forty GPs were contacted and 10 consented to participate. Responses to each medicine in the hypothetical patient profile varied. Opinions on deprescribing preventive and symptomatic medicines varied a great deal. Conflicting opinions existed particularly around the prescription of statins, dipyridamole and bisphosphonates. Dilemmas around the appropriate clinical management of reflux disease and insomnia in older people also came to light.

Conclusion: Gaining an insight into GPs' current prescribing patterns is important in designing any interventions aimed at reducing inappropriate prescribing. This study highlights the lack of clarity around deprescribing in multimorbidity. The participants' individual responses varied considerably. Deprescribing guidelines may help to clarify evidence based medicine relating to controversial areas and could hence decrease this variation.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Deprescriptions*
  • General Practitioners / psychology*
  • Humans
  • New Zealand
  • Qualitative Research