Scholarly article on topic 'Prescriber barriers and enablers to minimising potentially inappropriate medications in adults: a systematic review and thematic synthesis'

Prescriber barriers and enablers to minimising potentially inappropriate medications in adults: a systematic review and thematic synthesis Academic research paper on "Clinical medicine"

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Academic research paper on topic "Prescriber barriers and enablers to minimising potentially inappropriate medications in adults: a systematic review and thematic synthesis"

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BMJ Open Prescriber barriers and enablers to

minimising potentially inappropriate medications in adults: a systematic review and thematic synthesis

Kristen Anderson,1'2 Danielle Stowasser,3 Christopher Freeman,2'3 Ian Scott1'4

To cite: Anderson K, Stowasser D, Freeman C, etal. Prescriber barriers and enablers to minimising potentially inappropriate medications in adults: a systematic review and thematic synthesis. BMJ Open 2014;4:e006544. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2014-006544

► Prepublication history and additional material is available. To view please visit the journal ( 10.1136/bmjopen-2014-006544).

Received 4 September 2014 Revised 16 October 2014 Accepted 6 November 2014


For numbered affiliations see end of article.

Correspondence to

Ms Kristen Anderson;


Objective: To synthesise qualitative studies that explore prescribers' perceived barriers and enablers to minimising potentially inappropriate medications (PIMs) chronically prescribed in adults. Design: A qualitative systematic review was undertaken by searching PubMed, EMBASE, Scopus, PsycINFO, CINAHL and INFORMIT from inception to March 2014, combined with an extensive manual search of reference lists and related citations. A quality checklist was used to assess the transparency of the reporting of included studies and the potential for bias. Thematic synthesis identified common subthemes and descriptive themes across studies from which an analytical construct was developed. Study characteristics were examined to explain differences in findings.

Setting: All healthcare settings.

Participants: Medical and non-medical prescribers of

medicines to adults.

Outcomes: Prescribers' perspectives on factors which shape their behaviour towards continuing or discontinuing PIMs in adults. Results: 21 studies were included; most explored primary care physicians' perspectives on managing older, community-based adults. Barriers and enablers to minimising PIMs emerged within four analytical themes: problem awareness; inertia secondary to lower perceived value proposition for ceasing versus continuing PIMs; self-efficacy in regard to personal ability to alter prescribing; and feasibility of altering prescribing in routine care environments given external constraints. The first three themes are intrinsic to the prescriber (eg, beliefs, attitudes, knowledge, skills, behaviour) and the fourth is extrinsic (eg, patient, work setting, health system and cultural factors). The PIMs examined and practice setting influenced the themes reported. Conclusions: A multitude of highly interdependent factors shape prescribers' behaviour towards continuing or discontinuing PIMs. A full understanding of prescriber barriers and enablers to changing prescribing behaviour is critical to the development of targeted interventions aimed at deprescribing PIMs and reducing the risk of iatrogenic harm.

Strengths and limitations of this study

■ This is the most comprehensive review to date of prescribers' barriers and enablers to minimising potentially inappropriate medications which are chronically prescribed in adults.

■ Although database and manual searching was protracted and extensive, it is possible that not all relevant studies were found due to the poor indexing and inconsistent terminology for this topic.

■ Utilisation of a peer-reviewed, published method for thematic synthesis and a checklist to assess potential bias in studies contributed to the review's methodological rigour.

■ The included studies largely explored primary care physicians' perspectives on managing older, community-based adults in relation to relatively few drug classes and may limit the generalisabil-ity of the findings.


Studies in the USA and Australia indicate that at least one in two older people (aged 65 years or greater) living in the community use five or more prescription, over-the-counter or complementary medicines every day, and the number used increases with age.1 2 Polypharmacy (the use of multiple medications concurrently) predisposes older people to being prescribed potentially inappropriate medications (PIMs), that is, where the actual or potential harms of therapy outweigh the benefits.3-5 Recent international data suggest that one in five prescriptions for community-dwelling older adults is inappropriate.6 In Australia, approximately 20-50% of individuals in this age group are prescribed one or more PIMs, with higher rates seen in residential aged care facilities (RACFs).3 7-10 For adults younger than 65 years of age, rates of prescribing of PIMs have not been quantified beyond single medication classes (eg, benzodiazepines,

proton pump inhibitors). The rates and harms of polypharmacy in this population remain uncertain, although they are likely to be considerably less than that seen in older adults. In contrast, the harms of polypharmacy and prescribing of PIMs in older people are well established. Prescribing of PIMs is independently associated with adverse drug events, hospital presentations, poorer health-related quality of life and death.11 12 Up to 15% of all hospitalisations involving older people in Australia are medication-related, with one in five potentially preventable.13

These well-documented harms of prescribing PIMs should evoke a response from clinicians to identify and stop, or reduce the dose of, inappropriate medications as a matter of priority. While there is some evidence that PIM exposure has decreased marginally over recent years, its prevalence remains high.3 14-16 The process of reducing or discontinuing medications, with the goal of minimising inappropriate use and preventing adverse patient outcomes, is increasingly referred to as 'depre-scribing'.17 Although the term may be new, appropriate cessation or reduction of medication is a long accepted component of competent prescribing.18 19

The act of stopping a medication prescribed over months to years, however, is complicated by many factors related to patients and prescribers. These need to be understood if effective deprescribing strategies are to be developed. A recent review by Reeve et air20 identified patient barriers to, and enablers of, deprescribing, but to the best of our knowledge, no comprehensive review of prescribers' perspectives has been reported, which this paper aims to provide.


In the absence of a universally accepted method to conduct a systematic review of qualitative data, we utilised principles of quantitative systematic review, applied to qualitative research,21 and were guided by the Cochrane endorsed ENTREQ (Enhancing transparency

in reporting the synthesis of qualitative research) pos-

ition statement.

Search strategy and sources

An initial search was conducted to ensure that no systematic review on the same topic already existed. Two experienced health librarians were independently consulted in developing a comprehensive search strategy, which was informed by extensive prior scoping.23

PubMed, EMBASE, Scopus (limited to Health Sciences), PsyclNFO, CINAHL and INFORMIT (Health Collection) electronic databases were searched from inception to March 2014. Filters to identify qualitative research were used and adapted to improve search sensi-tivity.24 These were combined with terms and text words for: medical and non-medical prescribers and either inappropriate prescribing or reducing, stopping or optimising medications. Terms/text words were searched in

all/any fields or restricted to the title, abstract or keyword, depending on the size of the database and sophistication of its indexing. Reference lists and related citations of relevant articles were reviewed for additional studies. The full search strategy is detailed in the online supplementary appendix.

Study selection

After duplicate citations were excluded, one reviewer (KA) screened titles, abstracts and, where necessary, full text, to create a list of potentially relevant full text articles. Articles were required to meet provisional, intentionally overly inclusive, eligibility criteria to minimise the risk of inappropriate exclusions by the single reviewer. This list was forwarded to three reviewers (CF, DS and IS) who independently assessed the articles for inclusion. Discrepant views were resolved by group discussion to create the final list of included papers based on the refined eligibility criteria.

Inclusion and exclusion criteria

Inclusion criteria comprised: (1) original research articles with a qualitative component (ie, qualitative, mixed or multimethod studies all accepted); and (2) focus on eliciting prescribers' perspectives of factors that influence their decision to continue or cease chronically prescribed PIMs (as defined by the authors of each study) in adults.

No limits were placed on the care or practice setting of the patient or prescriber, respectively, or whether the article related to single or multiple medications.

Exclusion criteria comprised: (1) reviews, papers not published in English, and those for which the abstract or full text were not available; (2) focus on medication management decisions in the final weeks of life; (3) focus entirely on initiation of PIMs and (4) reported only quantitative data derived from structured questionnaires.

Assessment of the quality of studies

One researcher (KA) assessed the reporting of studies using the Consolidated Criteria for Reporting Qualitative Research (COREQ) checklist. This reporting guideline, endorsed by the Cochrane Collaboration, assesses the completeness of reporting and potential for bias in studies of interviews or focus groups.25 Any instances of interpretive uncertainty arising from the checklist were discussed and resolved within the four investigators.

Studies were not excluded or findings weighted on the basis of the COREQ assessment. Rather, we elected to include all studies, ascribing to the theory that the value of insights contained within individual studies may only become apparent at the point of synthesis rather than during the appraisal process

Data extraction process

For all included articles, data were extracted about study aims, location, setting, study design, participants, recruitment, PIMs examined and prescribers' perspectives of

factors influencing the chronic prescription of PIMs. Data for thematic analysis were only extracted from the results (not discussion) section of papers, with particular notice taken of quotations from prescriber participants.

Synthesis of results

The method used to synthesise results was based on the technique of thematic synthesis described by Thomas and Harden.27 Following multiple readings of the papers to achieve immersion, KA manually coded and extracted the text, and developed subthemes until no further subthemes could be identified. Two reviewers (DS and IS) independently read all papers and then reviewed the extracted, coded text and subthemes to confirm the comprehensiveness and reliability of the findings.28 Descriptive and draft analytical themes were subsequently developed by KA and then presented to, and discussed with, all investigators in developing and finalising the new analytical construct. The study characteristics and results were analysed for associations between specific themes and studies.

RESULTS Study selection

The search yielded 6011 papers, 21 of which met the selection criteria (see figure 1). There were no studies exploring the perspectives of non-medical prescribers.

Study characteristics

The characteristics of included studies are presented in table 1. All but one, which collected data by survey, used focus groups and semistructured interviews to collect qualitative data.29 Four papers explored prescribers'

views in relation to multiple medications (ie, polypharmacy)30-33 while the remaining papers investigated prescribers' views in relation to single PIMs or classes of medications (10 described one or more centrally acting agents such as psychotropics, hypnotics, benzodiazepines, minor opiates and antidepressants34-43; 2 for proton pump inhibitors44 45 and 5 for miscellaneous PIMs defined according to prespecified criteria, a preset medication list or clinical judgement.29 46-49 Eighteen studies elicited the views of prescribers practising in primary

29-41 44-48

care, one of the prescribers in secondary care,

and two of the prescribers servicing RACFs

COREQ assessment

The completeness of reporting varied across studies, with an average of 17 (range 8-22) of 32 items from the COREQ checklist clearly documented (table 2). The single descriptive survey reported 9 of 24 applicable fields.29 See online supplementary table for the completed COREQ assessment for each study.

The lowest rates of reporting were observed in domain 1, meaning that researcher bias ( poor confirmability) cannot be excluded.26 Greater transparency was apparent with domains 2 and 3 allowing comparatively better assessment of the credibility, dependability and transferability of study findings. For example, all studies reported the sample size and method and most reported a description of the sample and interview guide. There was consistency between raw data and interpretive findings in all papers except one in which the interpretation was so brief that its accuracy was considered doubtful.36 For five papers, it was unclear whether ethics approval was obtained.29 34 43 44 46

Figure 1 Flow chart of study selection.

Year of publication

Lead author


Medication types

Participants and setting

Age focus*

Data collection method


Dybwad Norway

Britten England To identify patients whose

current medication is the result of past treatment decisions and is regarded by their current GP as no longer appropriate, and to describe the drugs and the circumstances in which they continue to be prescribed To understand factors that could result in variations between GPs in order to form hypotheses and build theories about prescribing (main focus on factors that explain higher rates of prescribing) To explore physicians' perceptions and attitudes and the decision-making process associated with prescribing psychotropic medications for elderly patients To explore factors which may contribute to inappropriate long-term prescribing in UK general practice

Damestoy Canada


England and Scotland



Spinewine Belgium

Raghunath England

Miscellaneous PIMs 7 GPs, primary care

Benzodiazepines and minor opiates

Psychotropics (sedatives, hypnotics, anxiolytics and antidepressants)

38 GPs (18 high rate prescribers, 20 medium to low rate prescribers), primary care

9 physicians who conduct home visits, primary care

Miscellaneous PIMs 22 GPs, primary care

To explore beliefs and attitudes about continuing or stopping benzodiazepine hypnotics among older patients using such medicines, and among their GPs To explore the processes leading to inappropriate use of medicines for elderly patients admitted for acute care

To understand the prescribing behaviour of GPs by exploring their knowledge, understanding and attitudes towards PPIs Parr Australia To gain a more detailed

understanding of GP and benzodiazepine user perceptions relating to starting, continuing and stopping benzodiazepine use


Miscellaneous PIMs


All ages Descriptive survey; GP

selected patients prescribed inappropriate medicines, structured data extraction from notes and GP-facilitated interview of patient

All ages SSIs (combined with

prescription registration information)

72 GPs, primary care

3 geriatricians and 2 house officers, hospital elderly acute care wards

49 GPs, primary care

28 GPs, primary care

Not stated

Older patients

All ages

Older patients

Older patients

All ages

(Presumed face-to-face) SSIs

Face-to-face and telephone interviews informed by specific examples of PIMs identified by validated indicators

Non-standardised interview group discussions

SSIs with health professionals triangulated with observation on wards and FGs with elderly inpatients Focus groups

All ages SSIs

Grounded theory analysis

Not stated

Not stated

Not stated

Not stated

Not stated

Table 1 Continued

Year of Lead Participants and Age

publication author Country Aim Medication types setting focus* Data collection method Analysis

2007 Cook USA To understand factors Benzodiazepines 33 primary care Older Face-to-face and telephone Narrative

influencing the chronic use of physicians patients SSIs analysis

benzodiazepines in older adults

2007 Rogers England To explore the dilemma the controversial benzodiazepine legacy has created for recent practitioners and their view of prescribing benzodiazepines Benzodiazepines 22 GPs, primary care All ages SSIs Not stated

2010 Anthierens Belgium To describe GPs' views and beliefs on polypharmacy in order to identify the role of the GP in improving prescribing behaviour Polypharmacy 65 GPs, primary care Older patients Face-to-face individual SSIs (literature informed interview guide) Content analysis

2010 Dickinson UK To explore the attitudes of older patients and their GPs to chronic prescribing of antidepressant therapy, and factors influencing such prescribing Antidepressants 10 GPs, primary care Older patients SSIs Framework analysis

2010 Frich Norway To explore GPs' and tutors' Miscellaneous PIMs 20 GPs (39 GPs also Older Focus group interviews Thematic

experiences with peer group interviewed on topics patients following individual receipt of content analysis

academic detailing, and to outside the scope of this prescription profile report

explore GPs' reasons for review)

deviating from recommended

prescribing practice

2010 Moen Sweden To explore GPs' perspectives of Polypharmacy 31 GPs (4 private, 27 Older Focus groups (literature Conventional

treating older users of multiple county-employed), patients informed question guide) content analysis

medicines primary care

2010 Subelj Slovenia To investigate how high-prescribing family physicians explain their own prescription Benzodiazepines 10 family physicians (5 high and 5 low prescribers), primary care All ages SSIs Not stated

2011 Fried USA To explore clinicians' perspectives of and experiences with therapeutic decision-making for older persons with multiple medical conditions Polypharmacy 36 physicians, primary care, vet affairs and academia Older patients Focus groups Content analysis

2011 Iden Norway To explore decision-making among doctors and nurses on antidepressant treatment in nursing homes Antidepressants 16 doctors, 8 each working full-time and part-time in residential aged care facilities Older patients Focus groups Systematic text condensation and analysis

2012 Flick Germany To explore, given the specific risks and the limited effect of sleeping medication, why doctors prescribe hypnotics for the elderly in long-term care settings Hypnotics 20 prescribers servicing residential aged care facilities Older patients Episodic interviews Thematic analysis


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Synthesis of results

Thematic synthesis yielded 42 subthemes, 12 unique descriptive themes and 4 analytical themes (figure 2), with multiple interdependencies and relationships. Barrier and enabler descriptive themes and subthemes tended to mirror each other for each analytical theme of Awareness, Inertia, Self-efficacy and Feasibility. The first three themes reflect factors intrinsic to the pre-scriber and his/her decision-making process while the fourth deals with extrinsic factors. Tables 3 and 4 provide illustrative quotations from either primary study participants or study authors relating to barrier and enabler subthemes, respectively.

Fewer enablers were reported than barriers and there was variation in the relative contribution of each study to each theme.


Awareness refers to the level of insight a prescriber has into the appropriateness of his/her prescribing. This theme was apparent in the three papers which utilised audit or informal third-party (eg, other health professional) observation and feedback.46 47 49 Poor insight was an observed rather than reported barrier, with interventions to raise prescriber awareness an enabler to minimising the prescription of PIMs. Prescriber beliefs at a population level did not necessarily translate to prescribing practices at an individual level. For example, agreement among prescribers that benzodiazepines should not be used regularly or in the long term did not necessarily preclude such prescribing in individual patients.34 38 41


Inertia is defined as the failure to act, despite awareness that prescribing is potentially inappropriate, because ceasing PIMs is perceived to be a lower value proposition than continuing PIMs.

Fear of unknown/negative consequences of change featured in 15 of 22 papers, and related to consequences for: the prescriber (threatened therapeutic relationship, diminished credibility, increased initial and ongoing workload, potential for litigation, conflict with other pre-

29-31 34-36 38 40 43-47 49

scribers/health professionals) ; the

patient (withdrawal syndrome, symptom relapse or increased risk of the condition/event for which preventive medication was originally prescribed)36 38 40 42-47 and other health professionals (increased workload and safety concerns of staff in RACFs).42 43 The prescriber beliefs that facilitate cessation were the converse, that is, fear of unknown/negative consequences of continu-ation,44 a positive attitude to stopping medicines31 and a belief that this practice can bring benefits.36 37 48

The barrier belief that drugs appear to work with few

34 35 38 39

adverse effects was apparent in nine papers 41 43-45 47 of which two studied 'high-rate' and 'low-rate' benzodiazepine prescribers. 'High-rate' prescribers consistently downplayed risks of harm, whereas 'low/

Table 2 Comprehensiveness of reporting assessment (Consolidated Criteria for Reporting Qualitative studies checklist)25

Number of studies

reporting each criterion References of studies

Reporting criteria N=x of 21 reporting each criterion

Domain 1

Characteristics of research team

Interviewer/facilitator identified 14 30-34 37 38 42 44-49

Credentials 12 29 30 33-35 38-40 42 46 47 49

Occupation 7 34 38-40 42 46 49

Gender 16 30-35 37-39 42 43 45-49

Experience and training 2 38 39

Relationship with participants

Relationship established before study started 5 34 36 41 44 45

Participant knowledge of the interviewer 3 34 36 41

Interviewer characteristics 4 38 39 42 47

Domain 2

Study design

Methodological theory identified 15 30 32-35 37 38 40 42-45 47-49

Participant selection

Sampling method (eg, purposive, convenience) 21 29-49

Method of approach 12 32 34 37 38 40-43 45-47 49

Sample size 21 29-49

Number/reasons for non-participation 7 32 34 35 37 40 41 44


Setting of data collection 11 29-32 34 36 37 39 41 45 46

Presence of non-participants 0 -

Description of sample 17 29-34 37-45 47 49

Data collection

Interview guide 16 29-35 37 38 40-43 46 47 49

Repeat interviews 0 -

Audio/visual recording 19 30-35 37-49

Field notes 6 30 32 37 40 42 47

Duration 12 30 31 33 35 37 41-45 48 49

Data saturation 7 30 31 35 37-39 44

Transcripts returned to participants 1 44

Domain 3

Data analysis

Number of data coders 16 30-34 36 37 39-42 44-47 49

Description of coding tree 15 30-34 37 39-45 47 49

Derivation of themes 18 30-34 36-47 49

Software 6 30 38 40 44 48 49

Participant checking 2 37 49

Reporting 30-34 37-49

Participant quotations presented 18

Data and findings consistent 20 29-35 37-49

Clarity of major themes 18 29-34 37-47 49

Clarity of minor themes 14 29-31 33 34 36 37 39-41 43-45 49

medium-rate' prescribers were more conscious of such risks.34 41 The futility and potential harm of cessation in patients of advanced age was a subtheme predominantly present in papers considering psychoactive

34 35 38 43 46 47


Another barrier was the devolvement of responsibility to another party for the decision to continue or cease a medication (eg, another prescriber, health professional, society or the patient). One example was continuation of PIMs in patients that prescribers had inherited from colleagues where the former failed to question the rationale used by the latter in prescribing such

drugs.29 34 41 49 Another example was the provision of PIMs on the request of RACF nursing staff42 or

patients34 40 43 without a critical prescriber review. Finally, inappropriate prescribing of psychotropics, while viewed as a public health concern, was considered beyond the scope of individual prescribers.35


This analytical theme refers to factors that influence a prescriber's belief and confidence in his or her ability to address PIM use. It involves subthemes relating to

Open Access @


Raise prescribing threshold Monitoring by authorities


Stimulus to review


Prescribe without review

Figure 2 Schematic representation of barriers and enablers associated with each analytical and descriptive theme.

knowledge, skill, attitudes, influences, information and decision support.

Knowledge or skill deficits,30-35 40 45 49 including difficulty in balancing the benefits and harms of therapy,30-33 recognising adverse drug effects31 32 and establishing clear-cut diagnoses/indications for medi-cines,34 35 40 were challenges prescribers faced in identifying and managing PIMs. Balancing the benefits and harms was perceived to be especially difficult when reviewing preventive medications in multimorbid older people with polypharmacy where shorter life expectancy, uncertain future benefits and higher susceptibility to more immediate adverse drug effects must all be considered.30-33 On the other hand, better quantification of the benefits and harms of therapy,30-32 48 confidence to

deviate from guidelines and stop medications if thought

33 45 30 45

necessary, greater experience, and targeted

training, especially in prescribing for older people,49 were seen as enabling factors.

Compounding generic knowledge and skill gaps were information deficits specific to individual prescribing decisions, resulting from poor communication with multiple prescribers and specialists involved in patient care, inadequate transfer of information at care interfaces, fragmented and difficult-to-access patient medical records, and failure of patients to know/disclose their full medical history/medication lists to prescribers.30-33 40 41 46 47 49 This subtheme linked strongly with time and effort demands on prescribers, and in two papers

was associated with low motivation arising from a perceived inability to efficiently access all information required for optimal prescribing.40 49

Eight papers discussed the influence of care recommendations from guidelines and specialists.30-33 38 44 46 49 Guidelines were often viewed negatively, with prescribers feeling pressured to comply with recommendations at odds with the complexities of clinical practice.30-32 44 46 Pressure from staff to continue prescribing PIMs, often to maintain facility routines, was presented as a barrier unique to RACFs.42 43 Offsetting this were enablers centred on greater dialogue with patients to increase understanding and facilitate shared decision-

making,29 30 31 44 46 as well as timely access to, and decision support from, specialists, particularly geriatricians and psychiatrists.37 40 41 444649


Feasibility refers to factors, external to the prescriber, which determine the ease or likelihood of change. They relate to patient characteristics, resource availability, work practices, medical and societal health beliefs and culture, and regulations. The most frequently expressed barrier concerning

patients was their ambivalence or resistance to change29-32

35 37 38 40 43 44 46 48 49

and their poor acceptance of alterna-

37 38 42-44

tive therapies. In contrast, receptivity and capacity

to change were identified as enablers in three

Analytical and descriptive themes

Subtheme and references

Characteristics of studies from which subthemes were derived Type of PIMs; age focus*; setting (number of references)

Illustrative quotations

"Italicised text"=primary quote (ie, quote from a study participant from an included paper)

'Non-italicised text'=secondary quote (ie, quote from study authors' findings from an included paper)


Inertia Prescriber beliefs/ attitude

Poor insight4'

Discrepant beliefs and practice31 34 38 41 44

Fear of unknown/negative consequences of change (for the prescriber, patient and

staff )29-31 34-36 38 40 42-47 49

Drugs work, few side effects34 35 38 39 41 43-45 47

Prescribing is kind, meets needs (of patient, staff,

carer)34 37-41 43 44

Stopping is difficult, futile has/will

fail 31 34 36-38 42 43 46 47

Stopping is a lower priority

38 40 44 45 49

Misc PIMs (3);

Older (2) and all ages (1);

Primary (2) and secondary care (1)

Benzos (2) and minor opiates (1),

Polypharm (1), PPIs (1);

Older (1) and all ages (4);

Primary care (5)

Antidepressants (2), Benzos (2) and minor opiates (1), hypnotics (1), Misc PIMs (4), Polypharm (2), PPIs (2), psychotropics (1); Older (9) and all ages (6); Primary (12), residential aged (2) and secondary (1) care

Benzos (3) and minor opiates (1), hypnotics (1), Misc PIMs (1), PPIs (2), psychotropics (1); Older (4) and all ages (5); Primary (8) and residential aged (1) care Antidepressants (1), Benzos (4) and minor opiates (1), hypnotics (1), PPIs (1);

Older (3) and all ages (5);

Primary (7) and residential aged (1) care

Antidepressants (1), Benzos (3) and

minor opiates (1), hypnotics (1),

Polypharm (1), Misc PIMs (2);

Older (6) and all ages (3);

Primary (7) and residential aged (2) care

Antidepressants (1), Benzos (1), Misc PIMs (1), PPIs (2); Older (3) and all ages (2); Primary (4) and secondary (1) care

"When I saw the list of patients [to be discussed with the researcher], I was quite happy about the prescriptions...but obviously when you look at them in more detail there are anomalies there that ought to be either checked on, reviewed or even altered'46 'In contrast to stated beliefs about best practice, physicians estimated that 5-10% of their older adult patients were using benzodiazepines on a daily basis for at least the past 3 months'38

"He gets very worried and excitable if you attempt to change anything... even just

something minor would cause him virtually a breakdown'46

"We can't predict the effect [of deprescribing] for the individual patient'31

"It's scary to stop a medication that's been going for a long time, because you kind of

think am I opening a can of worms here, because I don't know what the reasons were

for them starting that medication. To explore all that will take, you know, I can't do all

that now, I will have to do that another time'40

"I suggest to them that ideally we should try to get them off of that, but if they're saying, been there, done that, that didn't work for me when I came off of this, I don't think it's worth getting into a big knock-down drag-out [fight] with them or having them leave my practice over this issue'38

'In their [the physicians'] view psychotropic medication helps the elderly patient remain functional and is the least problematic solution... The physicians stated that they often do not see side effects and that patients often do not report them.'35

'There is a paradox concerning older patients. You do not want to make them grow dull, but on the other hand you know their chronic problems, and you know that at their age the drugs are not so addictive. You want them to keep their minds clear, but on the other hand I do have a tendency to be permissive to older patients'34 "... It treats our own pain as well as our patients' pain, 'cos we want to help people and make people feel better. So if we give people something and make them feel better, then everybody seems to be happier'39

"Let's pretend it's an octogenarian.if it's gonna make the patient feel better, I don't care if the patient's on it for the rest of their life'38

'Most frequent concern identified was the difficulty anticipated in persuading older patients to withdraw after years of using benzodiazepines'36 "In my experience, patients get hooked on PPIs, it is almost addictive like heroin and people appear to experience severe indigestion symptoms on attempting to stop them'44 " We are always faced with multiple problems and PPIs are just one issue."44

Table 3 Continued

Illustrative quotations

Characteristics of studies from which "Italicised text"=primary quote (ie, quote from a study participant from an

subthemes were derived included paper)

Analytical and Type of PIMs; age focus*; setting 'Non-italicised text'=secondary quote (ie, quote from study authors' findings from

descriptive themes Subtheme and references (number of references) an included paper)

Prescriber Devolve responsibility 29 34 Antidepressants (2), Benzos (1) and 'They [the physicians] recognized that the inappropriate use of psychotropic medication

behaviour 35 40-43 49 minor opiates (1), hypnotics (1), for elderly patients was a public health problem, but they felt that it was beyond the

Misc PIMs (2), psychotropics (1); scope of the individual physician'35

Older (5) and all ages (3); "(...) I ask them if it should be a sleeping pill or another of the available options and

Primary (5), secondary (1) and mostly they have a need for sleeping pills'43

residential aged (2) care "I have been running this practice for twelve years. I took it over from an older colleague.

I took over all his patients. They were mostly old people. Prescribing policy has been

rather liberal, and I have continued this policy'34


Skills/knowledge Skills/knowledge Antidepressants (1), Benzos and minor "I don't have enough time for education about the newest information on psychiatric

30-35 40 45 49 gaps opiates (1), Misc PIMs (1), Polypharm disorders, and better communication with specialists would be very helpful'41

(4), PPIs (1), psychotropics (1); 'Side effects are not always recognised as such' 32

Older (7) and all ages (2); "When house officers come on our ward, they haven't necessarily been trained in

Primary (8) and secondary (1) care geriatrics. So they arrive here, and then they start with 10 mg of morphine every four

hours. That's too much" (Hospital based geriatrician)49

'You look at the medication list and want to reduce it but then you can't find things you

can eliminate'31

Information/ Lack of evidence30 31 33 Polypharm (3); "To me, the guidelines are kind of a hindrance. At the moment they do not cater for

influencers Older age (3); older patients'31

Primary care (3)

Incomplete clinical Antidepressants (1), Benzos (1), 'The problem is that the medication lists of the doctors involved are not exchanged and

picture 30-33 40 41 46 47 49 Misc PIMs (3), Polypharm (4); are consequently inconsistent"31

Older (7) and all ages (2); "One has discovered that they might have completely different expectations than what

Primary (8) and secondary (1) care the doctor had from the beginning. Do they want to survive for five more years or? And

so on. What are their expectations?'30

'Medicines, (mainly for chronic conditions) were sometimes not appropriately reviewed

because there was no written information on indication and follow-up or because this

was not readily available'49

"Sometimes the older people decide for themselves to reduce some of their medication

or to adjust the doses without telling their GP. Therefore as their GP you can have the

wrong impression about their medication intake..."32

Guidelines/specialists30-33 Benzos (1), Misc PIMs (2), 'When existing guidelines are debated, GPs felt deceived and insecure. The

38 44 46 49 Polypharm (4), PPIs (1); importance of individualising treatment was also expressed and many guidelines were

Older (6) and all ages (2); perceived as too rigid leading to a standardized 'kit' of medicines per indication.'30

Primary (7) and secondary (1) care "I have difficulty not following the guidelines if I don't have good reasons to do so'31

"When the hospital consultant recommends a treatment it's difficult... for us not to

prescribe unless there is a very good reason. To some extent we feel obliged to carry on

when they have initiated it'4

Other health professionals Antidepressants (1) and hypnotics (1); "(...) in such a situation it amounts to the sleeping pill, because everybody else's need

(aged care) 42 43 Older patients (2); is the sleeping pill, and I would have to fight tooth and nail if really I wanted to avoid

Aged care (2) this'43


(D (0 (0

Table 3 Continued

Analytical and

descriptive themes Subtheme and references

Characteristics of studies from which subthemes were derived Type of PIMs; age focus*; setting (number of references)

Illustrative quotations

"Italicised text"=primary quote (ie, quote from a study participant from an included paper)

'Non-italicised text'=secondary quote (ie, quote from study authors' findings from an included paper)

Feasibility Patient


Work practices

Ambivalence/resistance to change 29-32 35 37 38 40 43

44 46 48 49

Poor acceptance of

alternatives37 38 42-44

Difficult and intractable adverse circumstance 34 35 37 39 40

Discrepant goals to prescriber

30 33 34 37 38 40-

Time and effort

42 46 48 49

Insufficient reimbursement3

Limited availability of effective

37 38 41 -43


Prescribe without review34 35 42 43 45-47

Antidepressants (1), Benzos (2),

hypnotics (1), Misc PIMs (4), Polypharm

(3), PPIs (1), psychotropics (1);

Older (9) and all ages (4);

Primary (11), secondary (1) and

residential aged (1) care

Antidepressants (1), Benzos (2),

hypnotics (1), PPIs (1);

Older (3) and all ages (2);

Primary (3) and residential aged (2) care

Antidepressants (1), Benzos (2) and

minor opiates (1), psychotropics (1);

Older (2) and all ages (3);

Primary care (5)

Polypharm (2);

Older age (2);

Primary care (2)

Antidepressants (2), Benzos (3) and minor opiates (1), Misc PIMs (3), Polypharm (2); Older (7) and all ages (4); Primary (9), secondary (1) and residential aged (1) care Benzos (2);

Older (1) and all ages (1); Primary (2) care

Antidepressants (1), Benzos (3),

hypnotics (1);

Older (3) and all ages (2);

Primary (3) and residential aged (2) care

Antidepressants (1), Benzos and minor

opiates (1), hypnotics (1), Misc PIMs (2),

PPIs (1), psychotropics (1);

Older (4) and all ages (3);

Primary (5) and residential aged (2) care

"They (RACF nurses) called me on the carpet to tell me that withdrawing antidepressants was not a clever thing to do because the patient became angrier and resisted care. They therefore demanded that I reinstate medication'42

"When I said initially we wanted her to come off it, she said, oh no, I've been on that for

ages, and I don't want to come off if48

'The discontent rarely lies with the patient themselves'31

"... these types of people and they tend not to want to help themselves, you know they won't take the hypnotherapy and they won't go to yoga classes and they won't do anything else. They just want a quick fix'37

"I think they have horrible lives, a lot of them... I think it's a combination of all things, their health, their social circumstances. I think a lot of people are on antidepressants because of everything put together. And you can't... change most of the factors that cause it'40

"I kind of get aggravated that half of the medicines that I think are totally rubbish are the ones that the patient really wants to take'33

"We have a big problem with long-term hypnotic use. It would take an awful lot of work and it's purely a time and work problem'46

'A lack time or resources to provide counselling, especially due to the absence of remuneration for doing so'37

'.There is hardly any alternative to medicamentous therapy'43

"(...) then he gets something and he continues this pill, and then the issue is over for him, then it's quiet, and then he has his pill and then he sleeps through, and from time to time you may enquire, it if occurs to you while looking at his medication'43 "When we work in a large health centre, then we sign prescriptions for each other... when a colleague is absent, we issue prescriptions for him that day. Any prescription I issue is my responsibility, but if you are asked to prescribe a particular drug [for a colleague] then you sign it in the reception. I don't check which other drugs that person

Table 3 Continued

Analytical and descriptive themes

Subtheme and references

Characteristics of studies from which subthemes were derived Type of PIMs; age focus*; setting (number of references)

Illustrative quotations

"Italicised text"=primary quote (ie, quote from a study participant from an included paper)

'Non-italicised text'=secondary quote (ie, quote from study authors' findings from an included paper)

Medical culture

Health beliefs and culture


Respect prescriber's right to autonomy and hierarchy

29 30 34 37 45 46 49

Culture to prescribe more3

Prescribing validates

illness34 40 43

Quality measure

driven care33

Benzos (1) and minor opiates (1), Misc PIMs (3), Polypharm (1), PPIs (1); Older (2) and all ages (5); Primary (6) and secondary (1) care Antidepressants (1), Misc PIMs (1), Polypharm (1); Older patients (3),

Primary (2) and residential aged (1) care

Antidepressants (1), Benzos and minor

opiates (1), hypnotics (1);

Older (2) and all ages (1);

Primary (2) and residential aged (1) care

Polypharm (1);

Older (1);

Primary care (1)

'The GPs rarely contact colleagues, for example, hospital specialists, as there is a perceived lack of routines for this as well as an informal understanding not to pursue colleagues' motivations for prescriptions'30

'The number of medications grows slowly. There is a complaint, we give new medication, it continues without really stopping it after a while... and it is our responsibility to try and withdraw it from the patient'32

'They feel that unless they are on a tablet for it then they are not having any treatment. There are a lot of those kinds of people'40

"Another factor that we experience at the VA is these electronic reminders that tell you to do things. What I do really depends on who is in front of me. So the reminder comes up and it makes no sense. This guy's LDL is 101.8... Should I go from 40 to 80 of simvastatin? And what's the risk and benefit there?'33

*Age focus refers to the indicative age group of patients who were the focus of participant discussions, as suggested by the terms used in each article, which did not specify the exact age ranges.

Benzos, benzodiazepines; Misc, miscellaneous; PIMs, potentially inappropriate medications; Polypharm, polypharmacy, PPIs, proton pump inhibitors.

Table 4 Illustrative quotations for enabler themes and subthemes

Illustrative quotations

"Italicised text"=primary quote (ie, quote from a study

Analytical and Characteristics of studies from which subthemes participant from an included paper)

descriptive were derived including: type of PIMs; age focus*; 'Non-italicised text'=secondary quote (ie, quote

themes Subtheme setting (number of references) from study authors' findings from an included paper)


Review, observation, audit and Misc PIMs (3); As above46

feedback 46 47 49 Older (2) and all ages (1);

Primary (2) and secondary (1) care


Prescriber Fear of negative/unknown PPIs (1); "Miracle all right, but too good of anything can be dangerous. Would just like

beliefs/attitude consequences of continuation 44 All ages (1); to reiterate that, let me say they [PPIs] even work too well, what worries me is

Primary care (1) won't there be long-term missed cancers?'44

Positive attitude towards Polypharm (1); 'You can have a field day with crossing off medication: 'sure, scrap half of it"31

deprescribing31 Older age (1);

Stopping brings benefits 36 37 48 Primary care (1)

Benzos (2) and Misc PIMs (1); "O ya, and she was delighted, I stopped some of her other medications

Older (2) and all ages (1); because she was in front of me and I had a bit of time to do if48

Devolve responsibility29 40 44 Primary care (3)

Prescriber Antidepressants (1), Misc PIMs (1), PPIs (1); 'Some [GPs] preferred to wait until the patient went to hospital where they

behaviour Older (1) and all ages (2); would be taken off their drugs without the GP being blamed. The GP might

Primary care (1) even write and ask a hospital doctor to do this'29

"Why not be honest and say, the NHS can't afford to keep giving you these

drugs unless there's a very good reason. The patients understand that, and in

this day and age they understand perfectly well about cosf44


Skills/attitude Confidence (to stop therapy/ Polypharm (1), PPIs (1); "It's not as if the life of the patient is suddenly at risk because I take away a

deviate from guidelines)33 45 Older patients (1) and all ages (1); pill, yes. [. ] in the worst case heartburn may re-occur or there is upper

Primary care (2) abdominal discomfort, but that will not immediately cause a bleeding ulcer"45

"I sort of you know tone those goals down. I am not looking for a Hemaglobin

A1C of 7 I take the pressure off them and I start removing those

medications especially the ones that cause hypoglycaemia 33

Work experience, skills and Misc PIMs (1), Polypharm (1), PPIs (1); 'Yes, maybe problem oriented when you are new. Maybe now one thinks

training30 45 49 Older (2) and all ages (1); more about consequences, in another way 30

Primary (2) and secondary (1) care

Information/ Data to quantify benefits/ Misc PIMs (1), Polypharm (3); "Because actually what you could do is to give him (patient) some more

decision support harms30-32 48 Older (4); 'hard core' facts like: 'If you refrain from treatment your chance of stroke

Primary care (4) is 20%...'30

Dialogue with Misc PIMs (2), Polypharm (2), PPIs (1); Discussion during the research interview made some patients more willing to

patients29 30 31 44 46 Older (2) and all ages (3); consider a change in medication'29

Primary care (5) Adequate discussion with patients was widely recognised as one of the keys

to influencing change, but although practiced by some GPs it was not always


Access to specialists 40 41 44 49 Antidepressants (1), Benzos (1), Misc PIMs (1), They (low benzodiazepine prescribing family physicians) desired better

PPIs (1); co-operation and clear instructions from psychiatrists' 41

Older (2) and all ages (2);

Primary (3) and secondary (1) care


Table 4 Continued

Analytical and




Characteristics of studies from which subthemes were derived including: type of PIMs; age focus*; setting (number of references)

Illustrative quotations

"Italicised text"=primary quote (ie, quote from a study participant from an included paper) 'Non-italicised text'=secondary quote (ie, quote from study authors' findings from an included paper)

Feasibility Patient


Work practice


Receptivity/motivation to change

33 37 46

Poor prognosis4

Adequate reimbursement 3

Access to support

31 37 41 46

Stimulus to review29 31 40 44 48 49

Raise the prescribing threshold

Monitoring by authorities 34

Benzos (1), Misc PIMs (1), Polypharm (1);

Older (1) and all ages (2);

Primary care (3)

Misc PIMs (1);

Older age (1);

Secondary care (1)

Benzos (1); Older age (1); Primary care (1)

Benzos (2), Polypharm (1), Misc PIMs (1); Older (1) and all ages (3); Primary care (4)

Antidepressants (1), Misc PIMs (3); Polypharm (1), PPIs (1);

Older (4) and all ages (2); Primary (5) and secondary (1) care PPIs (2); All ages (2); Primary care (2)

Benzos and minor opiates (1); All ages (1); Primary care (1)

"He's fairly amenable to tinkering with his pills, so we'll look at that

"Sometimes people have taken 10 medicines while they were in curative care, and gradually they move on to palliative care. Then we must reconsider all the prescriptions, drug by drug, saying: OK, what's the goal? To improve your comfort? Well, this medicine will make you feel more comfortable; we can stop this other one'49

"Reimbursement is very low... I think if it was something that we did get reimbursed on I think you would see physicians' attitudes a lot different. You'd be more willing to spend time'38

'Most GPs work closely with a local pharmacist [when undertaking medication review to stop medicines]: the task perception of such pharmacists was an important factor when a GP was looking for decision support in medication


'A new patient entering the practice list is welcomed as an opportunity to review their medication'31

"I think we are all sitting here and debating about this mainly because of the pressure on us by our pharmaceutical advisors not to prescribe PPIs because of cost implications to the NHS; I bet that this will not be an important topic in 2 years when Losec goes generic'44

'The continuous monitoring of prescriptions by health authorities also put stress on the doctors'34

*Age focus refers to the indicative age group of patients who were the focus of participant discussions, as suggested by the terms used in each article, which did not specify the exact age ranges.

Benzos, benzodiazepines; Misc, miscellaneous; PIMs, potentially inappropriate medications; Polypharm, polypharmacy; PPIs, proton pump inhibitors.

studies,33 37 46 as was a poor prognosis which helped crystallise care goals and prompt review of the appropriateness of existing drug regimens.49 The limited time and effort to review and discontinue

30 33 34 37 38 40-42 46 48 49

medications was the most

common resource constraint followed by the limited availability of effective non-drug treatment options.35 37 38 4i-43 Adequate reimbursement38 and access to support services such as mental health workers and effects

pharmacists for medication review3i 37 4i 46 emerged as


Certain work practices were raised as barriers to depre-scribing, such as provision of repeats for a prescriber's own or colleague's patients,34 46 47 and the absence of explicit treatment plans or a formal or scheduled medication review.34 43 The mirroring enablers were opportunities to review medication regimens (eg, hospital

admission,29 49 change of prescriber,3i specialist40 or

scheduled review).44 48

The remaining descriptive themes related to medical and societal health beliefs and cultural and regulatory factors. The most frequently mentioned barrier was discomfort and reluctance to question a colleagues' prescribing decisions29 30 34 37 45 46 49 associated with

respect for professional autonomy or the medical hierarchy when specialist prescribers were involved.

Externally imposed guideline-based quality measures were presented as a barrier to minimising the prescription of PIMs.33 Raising the prescribing threshold for medications (eg, through increased cost or restricted access)44 45 and monitoring by authorities34 were seen by prescribers as unwelcome, perverse enablers.


This systematic review comprehensively investigates pre-scriber barriers and enablers to minimising the prevalence of chronically prescribed PIMs in adults. The thematic construct which was developed from published literature centres on Awareness, Inertia, Self-efficacy and Feasibility. It principally reflects the perspectives of primary care physicians managing older, community-based adults. Although the themes and subthemes have been presented separately, the reasons doctors continue to prescribe, or do not cease, PIMs are multifactorial, highly interdependent and impacted by considerable clinical complexity.

Many subthemes were common to papers regardless of interstudy differences in the PIMs discussed, patient age and clinical setting (eg, primary, secondary or residential aged care).

Subthemes varied according to whether studies focused on polypharmacy or single PIMs or classes of PIMs, which were also associated with differing levels of prescriber insight and certainty. In the four studies focused on polypharmacy, prescribers were aware of polypharmacy-related harm but could not easily identify which medications were inappropriate, as reflected by

the subthemes 'difficulty/inability to balance benefits and harms of therapy',30-33 'inability to recognise adverse drug effects',31 32 'lack of evidence'30 31 33 and 'incomplete clinical picture'.30-33 In other studies focusing on specific classes of overprescribed medications, prescribers were aware of this inappropriateness, but in response voiced various rationalisations for continued prescribing such as 'drugs work, few adverse 34 35 38 39 41 43-45 47 'prescribing is kind and meets needs',34 37-41 43 44 'stopping is difficult, futile, has or will fail',34 36-38 42 43 47 'poor (patient) acceptance of alternatives',37 38 42-44 and 'difficult and intract-

34 35 37 39 40

able adverse (patient) circumstance .

However, in other studies focusing on miscellaneous PIMs, prescribers were generally not aware of their inappropriate prescribing until this was revealed to them (eg, through audit and feedback).46 47 49 No definite thematic pattern was observed from the

subthemes of six studies which did not specifically focus

29 37 39 41 44 45

on the care of older people compared

with the remaining 15 which did. Compared with studies in primary care, unique themes emerged from papers set in RACFs and acute care settings. For example, pressure on prescribers to continue prescribing PIMs at the request of RACF nursing staff was unique to this setting.42 43 The one study set in acute care highlighted inexperience and training deficiencies of junior prescribers, as viewed by three geriatricians.49

The finding that poor insight into potentially inappropriate prescribing (PIP) practices was only apparent in studies where prescribers were made aware of this is unsurprising given that prescribers do not intentionally prescribe medications inappropriately. It demonstrates the importance of awareness-raising strategies for prescribers. Inertia, as in failure to depre-scribe when appropriate, sits at odds with the more traditional use of the word as symbolising failure to intensify therapy when indicated.50 Inertia has been linked to 'omission bias' where individuals deem harm resulting from an act of commission to be worse than that resulting from an act of omission.51 52 In the case of deprescribing as an act of commission, it becomes more a matter of reconciling a level of expected utility (accrual of benefits) with a level of acceptable regret (potential to cause some harm).53 Fear of negative consequences resulting from deprescribing contributes to inertia and is not easily allayed by the current limited evidence base regarding the safety and efficacy of deprescribing.54 In the same papers in which prescribers rationalised continuation of therapy with the belief that drugs work and have few adverse

34 35 38 39 41 43-45 47

effects, prescribers also identified

different thresholds for initiating versus continuing the same therapy. This anomaly suggests a lack of pre-scriber insight, clear differences in prescribers' attitudes towards initiation versus continuation, or a social response bias towards a false belief induced by the methodology used by interviewers.

Relevance to previous literature

One meta-synthesis of seven papers has recently been published online exploring prescribers' perspectives of why PIP occurs in older people.55 Compared with our review, this study had a generic focus on PIP, including underprescribing, and its search strategy retrieved fewer articles (n=7). Scanning their reference list did not reveal any additional papers which would have met our selection criteria and their results yielded no additional themes.

Our findings are consistent with those in the literature (largely focused on initiation of therapy), suggesting that pharmacological considerations are not the only factors impacting doctors' prescribing decisions.56 Interacting clinical, social and cultural factors relating to both the patient and prescriber influence prescribing deci-


Reeve et af° recently published a review of patient barriers and enablers to deprescribing and have emphasised the importance of a patient-centred deprescribing process.59 When comparing their results with ours, we find that prescribers' barriers are concordant with those of patients with respect to resistance to change, poor acceptance of non-drug alternatives, and fear of negative consequences of discontinuation. However, prescribers also underestimate enabling factors including patients' experiences/concerns of adverse effects, dislike of multiple medicines, and being assured that a ceased medication can be recommenced if necessary. Patients also reported that their primary care physician could be highly influential in encouraging them to discontinue therapy, a perception not echoed among prescribers in this review.20 Prescribers need to discuss, rather than assume, patient attitudes towards their medicines and to deprescribing, in the context of their current care goals.

Previous reviews of interventions to reduce inappropriate prescribing/polypharmacy in older patients have not been able to conclude with certainty that multifaceted interventions are more effective than single strat-egies.60 61 Although our findings suggest that the former are likely to be more successful, further research is required to identify the barriers and enablers with the greatest potential for impact in designing targeted deprescribing interventions.

Strengths and limitations

Inconsistent terminology and poor indexing of search terms relating to deprescribing and inappropriate therapy greatly hampered our ability to identify relevant studies. Our mitigation efforts comprised a comprehensive prescoping exercise, a highly iterative search strategy tailored to each database, and snowballing from reference lists and related citations.

Despite no search restrictions on patient age, clinical setting or type of PIM, most study participants were experienced primary care physicians caring for older, community-based adults. Caution is therefore needed when transferring our results to other settings or patient

groups. However, two recent cross-sectional studies looking at barriers to discontinuation of benzodiaze-pines and antipsychotics in nursing homes reflected sub-themes identified in our review—fear of negative consequences of discontinuation such as poorer quality of life, symptom recurrence, greater workload and a lack of available, effective, non-drug alternatives.62 63

Many of the papers focused on relatively few drug classes ( psychotropics and PPIs) and only four focused on polypharmacy. Although some subthemes were common to all types of studies (single and miscellaneous PIMs and polypharmacy papers), others were not. It is possible that, had more medication classes been studied, some of our results may have been different.

The strengths of our review include adherence to a peer-reviewed, documented methodology for thematic synthesis, COREQ assessment of studies allowing the assessment of potential for bias, compliance with ENTREQ reporting requirements and a multidisciplin-ary team of investigators to validate theme identification and synthesis.

Implications for clinicians and policymakers and future research

The results of this review disclose prescriber perceptions of their own cognitive processes as well as patient, work setting and other health system factors which shape their behaviour towards continuing or discontinuing chronically prescribed PIMs. The thematic synthesis provides a clear conceptual framework to understand this behaviour. Rendering these issues visible for both clinicians and policymakers is the first stage in minimising inappropriate prescribing in routine clinical practice. It facilitates what has been lacking in deprescribing intervention studies to date—a pragmatic approach towards identifying and accounting for local barriers and enablers which will determine the overall effectiveness of targeted interventions.

Further high-quality prospective clinical trials are urgently needed in demonstrating the safety, benefits and optimal modes of deprescribing, especially in relation to multimorbid older people.61 64 The fog of polypharmacy clouds a prescriber's capacity and confidence to identify PIMs which, to be overcome, requires complete and accurate clinical information and decision support.

Professional organisations and colleges have an important role in encouraging the necessary cultural and attitudinal shifts towards 'less can be more' in appropriate patients. The push for guideline adherence and intensification of therapy needs to be counterbalanced by the view that judicious reduction, discontinuation or non-initiation of medication, in the context of shared decision-making and agreed care goals, is an affirmation of highest quality, individualised care.65 This view needs to be embraced in the education and training of all health professionals, not just doctors, who influence the prescribing process.

Prescribers are making decisions in the face of immense clinical and health system complexity. Appropriate deprescribing needs to be regarded as equally important and achievable as appropriate initiation of new medications. Understanding how prescri-bers perceive and react to prescribing and deprescribing contexts is the first step to designing policy initiatives and health system reforms that will minimise inappropriate overprescribing.

Author affiliations

"'Centre of Research Excellence in Quality & Safety in Integrated Primary-Secondary Care, School of Medicine, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

2Charming Institute, Camp Hill, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

3School of Pharmacy, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland,


4Department of Internal Medicine and Clinical Epidemiology, Princess Alexandra Hospital, Woolloongabba, Queensland, Australia

Acknowledgements The authors thank the University of Queensland librarians Mr Lars Eriksson and Ms Jill McTaggart for their assistance in developing the search strategy and Ms Debra Rowett for her invaluable insights when scoping the search and developing the manuscript.

Contributors IS conceived the paper, the scope of which was refined by all authors. KA searched the literature, led the data analysis and drafted the manuscript. IS and DS read articles and assessed the data analysis for comprehensiveness and reliability. IS, DS and CF provided critical comments and contributed to the interpretation of the analysed results and framework development. All authors read, revised and accepted the final draft.

Funding KA and IS are funded through a National Health and Medical Research Council grant under the Centre of Research Excellence Quality & Safety in Integrated Primary/Secondary Care (Grant ID, GNT1001157).

Competing interests KA received a speaker honorarium for an Australian Association of Consultant Pharmacy presentation. DS reports personal fees from the National Prescribing Service, outside the submitted work.

Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

Data sharing statement Data used to develop the tables and figures presented in this article are available by emailing the corresponding author, Kristen Anderson,

Open Access This is an Open Access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited and the use is non-commercial. See: http://


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BMJ Open

Prescriber barriers and enablers to minimising potentially inappropriate medications in adults: a systematic review and thematic synthesis

Kristen Anderson, Danielle Stowasser, Christopher Freeman and Ian Scott

BMJ Open 2014 4:

doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2014-006544

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