Avoiding inappropriate polypharmacy has become increasingly recognised as a safety imperative for older patient care. Deprescribing is an active process of reviewing all medications being used by individual patients that prompts clinicians to consider which medications have unfavourable risk–benefit trade-offs in the context of illness severity, advanced age, multi-morbidity, physical and emotional capacity, life expectancy, care goals and personal preferences. Structured guides to deprescribing include algorithms, flow charts or tables which are patient-directed and aim to guide the clinician through sequential steps in deciding which medications should be targeted for discontinuation. In this narrative review, we describe seven structured deprescribing guides whose stated purpose included the reduction of polypharmacy, their use was not restricted to a single drug or drug class and they had undergone some form of efficacy testing. There was considerable heterogeneity in guide design and content, with some guides constituting little more than a set of principles while others entail detailed processes and sub-steps which addressed multiple determinants of drug appropriateness. Evidence of effectiveness for each guide was limited in that none have been evaluated in randomised controlled trials, that pilot or feasibility studies have involved relatively small patient samples, that intra-rater and inter-rater reliabilities have not been determined and that most have been studied in hospital settings. Which is most useful to clinicians is unknown in the absence of head-to-head comparisons. While most guides have face validity, more research is needed for determining effectiveness and ease of use in routine clinical practice, especially in primary care settings.
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