Interventions to improve the appropriate use of polypharmacy for older people

Susan M. Patterson, Cathal A. Cadogan, Ngaire Kerse, Chris R. Cardwell, Marie C. Bradley, Cristin Ryan, Cochrane Effective Practice and Organisation of Care Group

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

213 Citations (Scopus)
2696 Downloads (Pure)


Inappropriate polypharmacy is a particular concern in older people and is associated with negative health outcomes. Choosing the best interventions to improve appropriate polypharmacy is a priority, hence interest in appropriate polypharmacy, where many medicines may be used to achieve better clinical outcomes for patients, is growing.

This review sought to determine which interventions, alone or in combination, are effective in improving the appropriate use of polypharmacy and reducing medication-related problems in older people.

Search methods
In November 2013, for this first update, a range of literature databases including MEDLINE and EMBASE were searched, and handsearching of reference lists was performed. Search terms included 'polypharmacy', 'medication appropriateness' and 'inappropriate prescribing'.

Selection criteria
A range of study designs were eligible. Eligible studies described interventions affecting prescribing aimed at improving appropriate polypharmacy in people 65 years of age and older in which a validated measure of appropriateness was used (e.g. Beers criteria, Medication Appropriateness Index (MAI)).

Data collection and analysis
Two review authors independently reviewed abstracts of eligible studies, extracted data and assessed risk of bias of included studies. Study-specific estimates were pooled, and a random-effects model was used to yield summary estimates of effect and 95% confidence intervals (CIs). The GRADE (Grades of Recommendation, Assessment, Development and Evaluation) approach was used to assess the overall quality of evidence for each pooled outcome.

Main results
Two studies were added to this review to bring the total number of included studies to 12. One intervention consisted of computerised decision support; 11 complex, multi-faceted pharmaceutical approaches to interventions were provided in a variety of settings. Interventions were delivered by healthcare professionals, such as prescribers and pharmacists. Appropriateness of prescribing was measured using validated tools, including the MAI score post intervention (eight studies), Beers criteria (four studies), STOPP criteria (two studies) and START criteria (one study). Interventions included in this review resulted in a reduction in inappropriate medication usage. Based on the GRADE approach, the overall quality of evidence for all pooled outcomes ranged from very low to low. A greater reduction in MAI scores between baseline and follow-up was seen in the intervention group when compared with the control group (four studies; mean difference -6.78, 95% CI -12.34 to -1.22). Postintervention pooled data showed a lower summated MAI score (five studies; mean difference -3.88, 95% CI -5.40 to -2.35) and fewer Beers drugs per participant (two studies; mean difference -0.1, 95% CI -0.28 to 0.09) in the intervention group compared with the control group. Evidence of the effects of interventions on hospital admissions (five studies) and of medication-related problems (six studies) was conflicting.

Authors' conclusions
It is unclear whether interventions to improve appropriate polypharmacy, such as pharmaceutical care, resulted in clinically significant improvement; however, they appear beneficial in terms of reducing inappropriate prescribing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)CD008165
JournalCochrane database of systematic reviews (Online)
Publication statusPublished - 07 Oct 2014


  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Quality Improvement
  • Drug Therapy
  • Medication Therapy Management
  • Humans
  • Polypharmacy
  • Aged
  • Drug Prescriptions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Interventions to improve the appropriate use of polypharmacy for older people'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this