Patient and Physician Perspectives of Deprescribing Potentially Inappropriate Medications in Older Adults with a History of Falls: a Qualitative Study

J Gen Intern Med. 2021 Oct;36(10):3015-3022. doi: 10.1007/s11606-020-06493-8. Epub 2021 Jan 19.


Background: High-risk medications pose serious safety risks to older adults, including increasing the risk of falls. Deprescribing potentially inappropriate medications (PIMs) in older adults who have experienced a fall is a key element of fall reduction strategies. However, continued use of PIMs in older adults is common, and clinicians may face substantial deprescribing barriers.

Objective: Explore patient and clinician experiences with and perceptions of deprescribing PIMs in patients with a history of falls.

Design: We led guided patient feedback sessions to explore deprescribing scenarios with patient stakeholders and conducted semi-structured interviews with primary care physicians (PCPs) to explore knowledge and awareness of fall risk guidelines, deprescribing experiences, and barriers and facilitators to deprescribing.

Participants: PCPs from Kaiser Permanente Southern California (KPSC) and patient members of the KPSC Regional Patient Advisory Committee.

Approach: We used maximum variation sampling to identify PCPs with patients who had a fall, then categorized the resulting PIM dispense distribution for those patients into high and low frequency. We analyzed the data using a hybrid deductive-inductive approach. Coders applied initial deductively derived codes to the data, simultaneously using an open-code inductive approach to capture emergent themes.

Key results: Physicians perceived deprescribing discussions as potentially contentious, even among patients with falls. Physicians reported varying comfort levels with deprescribing strategies: some felt that the conversations might be better suited to others (e.g., pharmacists), while others had well-planned negotiation strategies. Patients reported lack of clarity as to the reasons and goals of deprescribing and poor understanding of the seriousness of falls.

Conclusions: Our study suggests that key barriers to deprescribing include PCP trepidation about raising a contentious topic and insufficient patient awareness of the potential seriousness of falls. Findings suggest the need for multifaceted, multilevel deprescribing approaches with clinician training strategies, patient educational resources, and a focus on building trusting patient-clinician relationships.

Keywords: deprescribing; falls; older adults; potentially inappropriate medications.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Accidental Falls / prevention & control
  • Aged
  • Deprescriptions*
  • Humans
  • Physicians*
  • Potentially Inappropriate Medication List
  • Qualitative Research