BMJ Qual Improv Report 6: doi:10.1136/bmjquality.u211783.w5035
  • BMJ Quality Improvement Programme

Identifying, highlighting and reducing polypharmacy in a UK hospice inpatient unit using improvement Science methods

  1. Dai Roberts
  1. St Ann's Hospice, UK
  1. Correspondence to Alison Phippen aphippen{at}
  • Received 9 September 2016
  • Revision requested 26 October 2016
  • Revised 18 November 2016
  • Published 10 March 2017


Polypharmacy, the concurrent use of multiple medications by one individual is a growing global issue driven by an ageing population and increasing prevalence of multi-morbidity[1]. Polypharmacy can be problematic: interactions between medications, reduced adherence to medication, burden of medication to patients, administration time, increased risk of errors and increased cost. Quality improvement methods were applied to identify and highlight polypharmacy patients with the aim of reducing their average number of regular tablets/capsules per day by 25%.

The project was delivered within a UK based 27 bedded hospice inpatient unit. A series of PDSA cycles studied interventions focusing on the identification of patients with polypharmacy, the highlighting of these patients to prescribers for review and the views of patients about their medication. For the purposes of the study, polypharmacy was defined as greater than ten regular medicines and/or greater than twenty regular tablets/capsules each day. The interventions tested included patients on regular paracetamol and strong opioids being offered a trial without regular paracetamol, a constipation guide promoting the use of combination laxatives, education of prescribers around dose strengths, checklist of recommendations was placed in case notes and a sticker was used on the medicine chart to highlight patients in need of polypharmacy review.

The introduction of a trial without paracetamol and a laxative guide led to reductions in polypharmacy. The sticker and checklist were successful interventions for highlighting patients with polypharmacy.

Quality improvement methods were used to plan, try, test and implement simple interventions for patients on the hospice inpatient unit. This has led to a 25% reduction in the average regular tablet/capsules burden , a 16% reduction in the average number of regular medications and a 30% reduction in the average volume of liquid medication per patient without an increase in the use of ‘as required’ medication or length of stay.

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