Polypharmacy: What Providers Need to Know

In the U.S., instances of polypharmacy—or taking five or more medications—have increased 70% among individuals over the age of 65 in the last 12 years. With chronic conditions on the rise, and the average life expectancy growing, managing multiple medications is a task most will undoubtedly face at some point. As providers, it’s important to understand that patients—if not already struggling with this task—will have to eventually learn how to effectively manage their medications. A better understanding of polypharmacy is key to these efforts.

To address this mounting concern in patient care, an article in the Pharmaceutical Journal highlights seven things providers should keep in mind when dealing with polypharmacy:

  1. Think Holistically – When patients are struggling with polypharmacy, it’s likely that they’re trying to manage multiple conditions at once. Looking at these conditions collectively allows providers to see overlap and identify medications that may be influencing each other. Additionally, depending on a patient’s priorities, medication may not always be the best solution for a condition.
  2. De-prescribing Is as Important as Prescribing – As additional conditions develop or priorities change, it’s important for providers to ask whether or not a drug is still needed. While providers are often hesitant due to fear of litigation and time required to convince the patient the drug is no longer needed, de-prescribing can be just as beneficial to the patient as prescribing.
  1. Be Patient-centric – Providers should ask patients what is important to them, and let them be in control of their care. Conversations about risk and making sure patients understand why they are taking certain medications can influence the types and amounts of medications prescribed.
  1. Use Language that Patients Understand – Just as with any industry, providers and pharmacists should avoid jargon and be realistic about the extent of the possible benefits of a medication. That way a patient can make an informed decision as to whether he/she would like to remain on it.
  1. Patients Visit Google – Patients will search online for information about the drugs they are taking. Be proactive and offer suggestions as to where they can go to get properly educated.
  1. Work Collaboratively with Other Providers – Pharmacists can offer medication expertise on a day-to-day basis that physicians may not have time to address during check-ups. By maintaining open lines of communication between these providers, the patient will have the most consistent, and often highest quality of care.
  1. Have Courage – Strict industry guidelines may often not be in line with what is best for the patient. For example, if adding another medication leads to overall non-adherence, is it worth the risk? Provider must be confident and have courage when making decisions regarding patients’ care and medications.

While polypharmacy is a complex concept, mastering it is absolutely essential to improving the care of patients contending with multiple medications and complex care routines. Following these aforementioned steps will not only help prepare patients to better manage their treatment, but also increase a provider’s ability to deliver optimal patient care and ensure the best possible outcome.

Read more about the dangers of polypharmacy, and how pharmacists can help.

Related Articles:

Huffington Post

Pharmacy Times

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