Polypharmacy and use of potentially inappropriate medications in long-term care facilities: does coordinated primary care make a difference?

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Polypharmacy is both common and harmful for frail residents of long-term care facilities (LTCF). We aimed to study rates of polypharmacy and potentially inappropriate medications (PIMs) before and after the implementation of a new model of coordinated primary care in LTCF, ‘Care by Design (CBD)’.


This was an observational before/after study in 10 LTCFs in Halifax, NS, Canada. Chart reviews were conducted for 529 LTCF residents for whom medication use was available. Both regularly scheduled and PRN medications were included but topical, inhaled and other non-systemic agents were excluded. Polypharmacy was defined as the concomitant use of more than 10 medications. PIMs were identified using Beers Criteria.

Key findings

Mean age of LTCF residents was older pre- versus post-CBD (85.7 versus 82.1 years; P = 0.0015). The burden of polypharmacy was high, but decreased significantly from 86.8% pre-CBD to 79.5% post-CBD (P = 0.046). The mean number of medications per resident decreased from 16.7 (SD 5.6) pre- to 15.5 (SD 6.2) post-CBD (P = 0.037). Residents with dementia were taking fewer medications both overall and following the implementation of CBD (mean 15.9, SD 0.6 pre-CBD versus 14.4, SD 0.4 post-CBD; P = 0.04). PIM rates were high and showed no change with CBD (86.2% versus 81.1%, P = 0.16).


Polypharmacy was the norm of this sample of LTCF residents. Implementation of coordinated care through the CBD model was associated with a small decrease in polypharmacy but not overall use of PIMs. Further targeted efforts are required to substantially reduce both polypharmacy and PIMs in clinical practice.

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