Internal Medicine Society of Australia and New Zealand

Avoid medication-related harm in older patients (>65 years) receiving 5 or more regularly used medicines by performing a complete medication review and deprescribing whenever appropriate.

Studies show that the risk of medication-related harm rises once the number of regularly prescribed medicines exceeds five; this risk increases exponentially as the number reaches eight or more. Medicines that deserve particular attention are benzodiazepines and other sedative-hypnotics, anti-psychotics, hypoglycaemic agents, antithrombotic agents, anti-hypertensives, and anti-anginal agents.

Trying to achieve aggressive treatment targets, such as BP <130/80 or HbA1c <7 per cent, in frail older patients with multiple co-morbidities confers little benefit and a higher risk of harm.

Discontinuation should be considered where past indications for specific medicines are no longer valid, the risk of harm outweighs the benefits within a patient’s remaining life span, or medicines are associated with past toxicity or non-adherence.

Supporting evidence
  • Gnjidic D, Hilmer SN, Blyth FM, et al. Polypharmacy cutoff and outcomes: five or more medicines were used to identify community-dwelling older men at risk of different adverse outcomes. J Clin Epidemiol 2012; 65:989-95.
  • McKean M, Pillans P, Scott IA. A medication review and deprescribing method for hospitalised older patients receiving multiple medications. Intern Med J 2016; 46:35-42.
  • Scott IA, Gray LC, Martin JH, at al. Effects of a drug minimization guide on prescribing intentions in elderly persons with polypharmacy. Drugs Aging 2012; 29:659-67.
  • Scott IA, Hilmer SN, Reeve E, et al. Reducing inappropriate polypharmacy. The process of deprescribing. JAMA Intern Med 2015; 175:827-34.
How this list was made How this list was made

A panel of IMSANZ members produced an initial list of 32 low value tests, treatments and management decisions frequently encountered in general medicine services. This initial list was distributed via e-mail to 350 members of a working group comprising approximately 50 general physicians as well as nurses and allied health professionals who ranked the items in terms of priority and were free to nominate additional items. Based on their responses, the list was condensed to 15 items including three which were not previously listed. These 15 items were the subject of a face-to-face forum of the working group which reached consensus on a final list of 10.

Recommendations on ‘what not to do’ were formulated around these 10 items and a summary of the evidence for each recommendation was prepared. An online survey based on this work was presented to, and approved by, IMSANZ Council. The survey was sent to all IMSANZ members asking respondents to assign a score from 1 to 5 for each recommendation on three criteria: ‘The clinical practice being targeted by this recommendation is still being undertaken in significant numbers’; ‘This recommendation is evidence-based’; and ‘This recommendation is important in terms of reducing harm to patients and/or costs to the healthcare system’. The survey attracted 182 respondents from all across Australia and New Zealand, which was a response rate of 26%. The final top five chosen were the recommendations with the five highest average total scores assigned to them.